Farage’s party down by 12 county representatives out of 139, just a year on from May 2013 poll, Guardian research shows
Ukip has lost almost one in 10 of the county councillors who won their seats when the party made a breakthrough at last year’s local elections, research by the Guardian has found.
A year on from the May 2013 poll, the party is down by 12 county representatives out of the 139 who were elected.
The majority of new Ukip county councillors appear to have been working actively in their communities over the past 12 months, with statistics showing they have the best attendance record of any party at more than 92% of compulsory meetings. In many areas, they have fought to limit councillor allowances and perks, campaigned against HS2 and mounted protests against EU flags being flown in town halls.
However, the band of newly elected councillors also appears to have been plagued by a disproportionate number of controversies. They include Peter Lagoda in Cambridgeshire, who has pleaded guilty to benefit fraud amounting to almost £25,000; Matthew Smith in Norfolk, who was charged with electoral fraud earlier this year; and Peter Georgiou, also in Norfolk, who resigned after admitting to shoplifting from Poundstretcher
Among those who have held on to their jobs is Victoria Ayling in Lincolnshire, now a parliamentary candidate, who was filmed saying she would like to “send the lot back”. Ayling claimed she had been referring to illegal immigrants.
A number of others left the party after controversies over remarks made on social media. Eric Kitson of Worcestershire resigned after posting anti-Muslim and antisemitic messages on Facebook. Chris Pain, formerly opposition leader on Lincolnshire county council, was also criticised after his Facebook page carried a post referring to “sandal-wearing, bomb-making, camel-riding … ragheads”. He denied posting the comments and said his Facebook page was hacked. However, he was expelled from the party in a separate feud with the leadership and took four county councillors with him to form a new group – Independence from Ukip. One of those who left to join his breakaway group was Tiggs Keywood-Wainwright, whose Facebook page included a post saying: “Bottom line is we have too many muslims [sic] in this country!”
Others to have left include the Worcestershire councillor Martin Jenkins, who resigned in protest at the party’s anti-gay marriage stance, and a Somerset councillor, Nigel Pearson, who had “irreconcilable differences” with his local party. A Worcestershire councillor, Tony Baker, died after just five weeks in office and the seat was retaken in a byelection by a Conservative.
Over the year, the party has gained new councillors through defections on a district, borough and town level, with 19 coming from Labour and the Conservatives in London alone. However, its county council losses during the year are many times higher than the other parties, with overall levels of Conservative and Labour councillors remaining almost stable.
Dr Matthew Goodwin, a politics expert at Nottingham University, said this would not undermine Ukip’s support and, in fact, the controversies may add to its appeal.
“While it is tempting to think the performance of radical right councillors or members of the European parliament might impact on their support, it clearly does not,” he said.
“With the radical right, and figures like [party leader Nigel] Farage, it is as if voters are willing to give them a free pass – to use them as a vehicle through which they can express their intensely held concerns over Europe, immigration and the state of our politics while overlooking their own failings or those of individual councillors and candidates. Indeed the past two months of British politics have made one thing clear; lining up voices in the establishment to denounce or ridicule an anti-establishment revolt does not work. If anything, it simply adds to their appeal.”
Ukip’s high drop-out rate is mirrored in the European parliament, where it has lost a third of its representatives since the last election for Brussels.
However, Farage has claimed his councillors are coming under unfair scrutiny as other parties trawl through social media for misdemeanours. The party has also launched a fightback by highlighting bad behaviour by councillors from other parties, including a Lib Dem borough councillor in Sutton recently convicted of racially aggravated assault.
Countering claims it has picked candidates for this month’s district, borough and town council elections with racist views, Farage held an event showcasing the party’s supporters from ethnic minorities last week. But this was undermined this week by the resignation of young Ukip rising star Sanya-Jeet Thandi, who left on the grounds that she believes the party has descended into a terrifying “form of racist populism”.
Ukip did not respond when asked to comment on the number of councillors who have left the party.
A UKIP county councillor representing Redditch has resigned from his post after calling his former party’s policy on gay marriage “disgusting”.
Martin Jenkins was elected to Redditch Arrow Valley East on Worcestershire County Council in May last year but has now stepped down from the position saying the UK Independence Party is “on the wrong side of history and needs to move into the 21st century”.
“As a libertarian I am a firm believer in freedom and true equality,” said Mr Jenkins.
“Instead of seizing the chance to support gay marriage, the party are using EU laws as a reason for not supporting it. So, as the party whose fundamental principle is to take the UK out of the European Union, UKIP is using a scenario that would not exist if it were in power as a reason for not supporting same sex marriage.
“This seems a huge contradiction on their part and it would appear UKIP simply do not support gay marriage, full stop.”
UKIP supports civil partnerships but opposes legalisation of same-sex marriage because of concerns that a law change could mean faith groups and places of worship would be forced to perform same-sex marriages.
“If UKIP made its policy clear that it does not support gay marriage in its current form, whilst we are a member of the EU, but it would support gay marriage under a new set of rules outside of the EU, then the party would have my continued support,” added Mt Jenkins.
He also said that an increasing number of public meetings taking place at a time when he was at work meant he found it difficult to represent his constituents.
UKIP enjoyed a surge in the local county council elections in May, 2013 winning four seats in Worcestershire.
Less than 12 months later the party is doing less well in the county as only one of the councillors is still in office. As well as Martin Jenkins’ resignation, Eric Kitson, ex-councillor for Stourport-on-Severn, resigned after admitting sharing offensive material about Muslims on Facebook and Tony Barker, representing St Marys in Kidderminster, died only a month after taking office.
This leaves only Stuart Cross, representing Redditch South, as a standing UKIP councillor in Worcestershire.
Bill Etheridge, west midlands regional organiser of UKIP, told the Advertiser he was disappointed with Mr Jenkins’ decision.
“The party has been firm on the issue since before Mr Jenkins stood for election. We are not saying we are in favour of gay marriage, we are saying that the moment has passed in time and we are moving on. We allow individual members to have their view and have no prejudice against gay people whatsoever,” he added.
A spokesperson from Worcestershire County Council said that it anticipates a by-election to fill the vacant seat will be held on the same day as the European and Redditch Council elections on May 22.