‘We didn’t expect to annihilate Ukip’ - Paul Carter reflects on rampant Conservative victory on KCC
PUBLISHED: 16:12 05 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:30 05 May 2017
The Tories won 67 out of 81 seats while Ukip’s representation was completely wiped out
Ukip was “annihilated” by the Conservatives in a hugely one-sided Kent County Council election which left them without a single seat at County Hall.
It mirrored the national picture where the party failed to win representation on local authorities up and down the country.
Conservative MP for South Thanet, Craig Mackinlay, told KoS in the run up to Thursday’s election that he believed there could be an “absolute wipeout” of his former party, which surprised everyone by winning 17 seats on the council four years ago.
Since then it has suffered something of an identity crisis post-referendum, with voters clearly struggling to see a purpose for Ukip after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
It was perhaps not overly surprising it failed to win seats in other areas of the county, but to end the election empty-handed in Thanet, in particular - a Ukip heartland in recent years, where it won control of its first district council in 2015 - was indicative of its growing decline in the minds of the electorate.
Indeed, party leader Paul Nuttall told members on a visit to Margate last month the area was “the heart of Ukip”.
Its misery was compounded by the fact Thanet District Council leader Chris Wells was beaten not only by the Conservatives, who won the Cliftonville seat he was contesting, but also Labour’s Aram Rawf - a former refugee who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq - who finished second.
A comfortable Conservative victory was perhaps inevitable in a county as traditionally blue as Kent, but even Tory chiefs might have been surprised by the magnitude of the landslide - winning 67 of the council’s 81 seats.
Conservative leader of the council Paul Carter admitted while he was confident of an increased majority, the magnitude of Ukip’s plight was greater than expected.
“That has come as a surprise to many people,” he told KoS.
“We expected the Ukip vote to collapse to some extent but we didn’t expect to annihilate the Ukip representation on county councils up and down the country.
“This is at the very high end of expectation for us.
“All of my 81 candidates worked exceptionally hard and I send enormous thanks to all their friends, families and volunteers who supported them.
“We’ve run a very good, clean campaign and we’ve got an extraordinarily good result for the county council, building on our track record of delivering improved services with a lot less public money coming our way from central government.”
As well as romping to a triumph in its heartlands in the west of the county, the Tories snatched back control of purple seats from Ukip in Swale and also booted out some high-profile Labour councillors, including the group’s leader, Gordon Cowan, and deputy leader, Roger Truelove.
Labour won three seats on KCC in total, down from 13 in 2013, which is surely an indication of public perception of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Cllr Truelove wondered if, with a general election around the corner, voters would be less inclined to vote ‘politically’ in the local elections, instead focusing more on the quality of the local candidate than they perhaps would have done had Theresa May not called a snap vote for June 8.
But clearly the party’s standing nationally has affected voters in Kent enough for it to lose 10 seats and Cllr Carter admitted he had an element of sympathy for those Labour candidates who will no longer be representing constituents over the coming four years.
“We’ve lost some big personalities,” he said.
“We celebrate our success but we do feel for our opponents who have given very long and loyal service to the authority in delivering a very strong and fair opposition over the years and I hope that continues because we need a strong opposition.
“Even though the opposition numbers may be limited, I can assure you the leader of the Liberal Democrats Trudy Dean is a very experienced and very sharp politician.
“We hope they provide the right checks and balance and scrutiny of the big decisions we make and support this county council which has a very proud history to continue to go in the right direction.
“We have collective responsibility on the big decisions.”
The polls suggest a similarly comfortable victory for the Tories when we return to the polling booths next month, but while Cllr Carter has maximum faith in the prime minister, who he says has convinced a lot of voters on Kent doorsteps in recent weeks, the party cannot afford to take anything for granted.
“The biggest impact of all in local government elections as it has been for many years is the standing of the national party and the policies they’re putting forward,” he said.
“It’s quite clear from results in local elections up and down the country that Theresa May is really connecting with her message, not just with regards to Brexit, but also for helping to support a country that is here to support all of our communities and our residents.
“I always say five weeks is a long time in politics so complacency is a concern and a worry but this is a very good indicator of good things to come for the Conservatives in the general election.”