To everyone outside the UKIP bubble my former party just sound like sore losers

In what was billed as the first electoral test for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the people of Oldham West and Royton went to the polls yesterday to choose the successor to the late Michael Meacher.

The veteran MP had served the constituency since 1970 and achieved a majority of over 14,000 in May; anything less than a resounding victory would have been a major blow to an already shaky Labour leadership.

The party’s fears during the campaign were, ultimately, unfounded, and Jim McMahon was returned victorious for Labour with an increased vote share. UKIP came a poor second and the Tories, with a meagre 9%, were the only other party to retain their deposit.

It seems that there may be questions to ask about irregularities in some of the postal votes – and if any wrongdoing took place then, for the sake of trust in democracy, it must be uncovered and the culprits brought to justice.

However, reading through the tweets from some UKIP members and supporters, you would be forgiven for thinking that postal votes cost the party the election, as toys were thrown out of prams left, right and centre:

Many of those raising objections now are the same as those behind #ThanetRigged, which claimed that the decision of the voters of South Thanet not to elect leader Nigel Farage was an establishment plot against UKIP, as comedian Al Murray alluded to this morning:

Of course, #ThanetRigged was somewhat overshadowed by Nigel Farage’s farcical resignation of the leadership and subsequent reversal – not to mention the slightly more important matter of a party of government increasing their number of seats so as to obtain an overall majority. Yesterday, however, was one by-election in one constituency, and the nation’s media were paying attention. Farage did not waste any time in stoking the anger amongst his party’s supporters, himself tweeting:

I may have left UKIP when I moved from the UK, but I do still take a keen interest in the party’s fortunes and I am dismayed at what I have seen since the declaration of the result. From the very top downwards, complaints are being made left, right and centre about the way yesterday’s result was arrived at, while supporters are slapping each other on the back and agreeing with each other’s conspiracy theories. To each other, it may genuinely seem as though there is a broad consensus that something is wildly amiss, but to most detached observers, it often just seems as though the members are looking to blame the election loss on anybody but their own party.

Chris Irvine was once the UKIP Group’s leader on Medway Council, election agent for Mark Reckless when he stood as the UKIP candidate for Rochester and Strood and (for full transparency) my own election agent when I stood as a UKIP candidate for Rochester South and Horsted. When he and Reckless both lost their respective elected positions in May, he quietly stepped away from UKIP (while Reckless took on greater responsibility within the party), but the former councillor hit the nail firmly on the head this morning:

UKIP is very good at playing the victim, which undoubtedly motivates the troops but, frankly, does not give a good impression to anybody outside the bubble of the party’s membership and core supporters. There is too strong a tendency to blame electoral losses on external factors such as alleged criminal wrongdoing, an establishment plot against the party, etc., without a seemingly genuine examination of what the party itself got wrong.

It would have been unrealistic to have expected anything other than a Labour victory in Oldham West and Royton; they were, after all, defending a majority of 14,738, or 34.2%. In May, Michael Meacher was chosen by 54.8% of voters to represent them, compared to then-UKIP candidate Francis Arbour’s 20.6% second-place.

What the UKIP base cannot seem to understand, however, was that while the UKIP vote for candidate John Bickley rose by just under three percentage points to 23.4%, Labour’s new Member of Parliament saw his party’s vote increase by almost eight percentage points to 62.1%. While the majority yesterday was lower in terms of the number of votes at 10,722, as it was a by-election and attracted a lower turnout, the percentage majority had actually increased to 38.7%. On the same turnout as in May, that percentage would have equated to an almost 16,700-vote majority.

Taking the postal votes away may have reduced the scale of the victory, but the Labour would still have won the seat.

So what went wrong for UKIP? Well, I am not denying that there was not an element of voting irregularity going on simply because I do not know the facts any more than the majority of those supporters who have been jumping up and down on their keyboards. I do agree that a thorough investigation should take place to either confirm that there were no criminal actions relating the the election or prosecute anyone who may have committed a criminal act.

However, what the party should really be focusing on is not what may or may not have been conducted by anyone else, but how the party can reach beyond its core support and attract the votes needed to turn it from a protest party into a serious contender across the country. People like Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans and Director of Policy Development Mark Reckless are crucial in transforming the fortunes of UKIP. Evans took the first important steps in the wake of the Oldham West and Royton result by recognising earlier today that “we must rise to the challenge of continuing to [sic] broadening our support” and “focus on what we can do next time, rather than risk just sounding like bad losers”:

Sadly, whilst scrolling through Twitter this morning I was met almost exclusively by sore losers. Those who would rather complain about the result rather than discuss what needs to change in order to build greater support need to wake up to reality: sore losers do not become future victors, they only generate future disappointment. If UKIP members genuinely want to change the direction of the country, they first need to play their own part in changing the direction – and public perception – of their party.

To those outside the UKIP bubble, they should appear to be a strong, principled political force with a broad support base and policies which resonate with the wider public. Today, however, they just appear to be little more than sore losers, and failure to recognise that will only hamper the party’s chances of electoral success in the future.

Welcome to the new Medway Elects

After a little over one month in maintenance mode, I am delighted to finally relaunch Medway Elects.

The window on democracy in Medway was originally born in April but the final design was rushed to ensure it was able to launch in time for the local and general elections in May. I acknowledged at the time that the layout was not “flash”, and I continued to have reservations about the look long after I published it.

I have since spent the past several months working on building a new site layout that was fresher and cleaner, whilst still sticking the the original objective of being simplistic. The design is fully-responsive to provide you with the best possible viewing experience based on the size of your screen.

In addition to the new design, I am unveiling a raft of new features, including:

Medway Council
Appointments to Cabinet and Committees;
Political Group Leaders, Deputy Leaders and Whips;
Terms of Office on Councillor and Ward pages; and
Voting history for every Councillor.

UK Parliament
Terms of Office on MP and Constituency pages.

NEW SECTION
EU Parliament
Election results since June 1999;
Every candidate for every party; and
Terms of Office on MEP pages.

NEW SECTION
Kent PCC
Election results since November 2012; and
Terms of Office on Kent PCC pages.

NEW SECTION
Referenda
All referenda held in Medway since May 1997.

The process has taken longer than expected, not only because of the vast amount of increased data being added but also because I have had to significantly alter the code structure to be able to cope with all of the new features without crashing the site (as happened during early development tests!).

As I said when I launched Medway Elects in April – it is still not finished. I am continuing to explore additional improvements to the site – and if you have anything you would like to see added to it please do feel free to ask and I will see if it is possible.

Until then, you can explore the new Medway Elects in all its glorious political geekiness at www.medwayelects.co.uk.

P.S. A continued thank you to Jennings and Keevil of The Political Medway for their continued advice and assistance as I tried to create the most user-friendly design possible. I am sure that their Twitter harassment will never cease…

This Corbyn-bashing is getting absurd

In their attempts to discredit the new Leader of the Opposition, some of his political opponents are stooping to incredibly low depths.

A service was held today to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Those present were there to honour and remember those brave men who gave their lives defending the our skies from Luftwaffe attacks. Given my close involvement within the Royal Air Forces Association this is, naturally, something close to my heart.

Yet the talking point from today’s service of remembrance seems to be the actions of the Labour Party’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Specifically, the fact that he dared not to sing the national anthem.

Now, I’m certainly not a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, I think much of what he says can be written down and used as toilet paper, but my immediate reaction to this latest “insult” is a resounding “so what?!”.

I may not agree with Mr Corbyn on many, many issues, but he is, unlike those candidates he defeated in the race to the leadership, a man of principle. He has campaigned on what he believes in during his 30 years in the House of Commons and hasn’t been afraid to defy the leadership, rebelling over 500 times since 2001. One of the criticisms from his opponents is that he has the gall to stand up for what he believes is right, not what the leadership of the day believes will win them votes. It is difficult for me, as a democrat, to find fault with that.

Today’s event is, as far as I’m concerned, no different. Mr Corbyn is a staunch republican, he believes the monarchy should be abolished. Why then should he be forced to sing a national anthem that, rather than instilling national pride amongst all citizens, is merely an ode to the sovereign of the day? Much as I support the monarchy, I’ve never been a huge fan of the current national anthem, patriotic though it may feel when singing it. But that’s another post for another day…

Predictably, it was Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames who was wheeled out to make this particular attack. As the grandson of Winston Churchill, it must have seemed that the attack would carry more weight coming from him. Sir Nicholas, who joined the House of Commons on the same day as Mr Corbyn, said that his silence had been “very disrespectful to the Battle of Britain pilots who gave their all”.

Disrespectful to the Queen, maybe, but to the Battle of Britain pilots who gave their all in defending the free society we still enjoy today, thanks to them, it most certainly is not. Mr Corbyn is, as far as I am concerned, as free to decline singing praise to the sovereign if it is against his beliefs as I am to criticise every ludicrous policy he may concoct and promote. The brave Battle of Britain pilots fought to defend our freedom, and making use of that freedom, even in a service of remembrance honouring them, is most certainly not being disrespectful to them or their memories.

Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party, is about to start proposing a number of policies that could damage Britain, and everyone who believes in Britain (even those of us who have moved abroad…) should make the potential damage clear before he wins any real power. However, political opponents and the media alike seem to be focusing on Jeremy Corbyn the man, rather than his policies, and look set to scrape the bottom of the barrel and try to make their personal attacks even more vicious than those against Ed Miliband.

By all means, attack the many crazy policies Mr Corbyn has, but attacking him personally, especially (absurdly) for being true to his beliefs, will only drive those who are fed up of the current style of politics into Mr Corbyn’s outstretched arms, and make the prospect of seeing his dangerous policies put into practice ever more likely.

A UKIP geography lesson

This weekend, I received my issue of Independence, the UKIP magazine which, in this edition, is firing the starting gun of the party’s No campaign in the EU Referendum.

Part of this campaign is The EU Referendum Tour, where party leader Nigel Farage is touring the country, speaking at public meetings to drum up support for a No vote in the eventual poll.

Independence has printed a helpful map, illustrating where Nigel will be making the case for Britain leaving the EU, one such place being the beautiful seaside town of Margate in my home county. Margate sits within the North Thanet parliamentary constituency, next to the South Thanet constituency Nigel failed to win by almost 3,000 votes in May. It also homes the venue which hosted the party’s Spring Conference in February.

You’d think, therefore, that they would know where Margate lies on a map of the UK. You’d think wrong:

UKIP Geography

I appreciate that, on a map such as this, it may be difficult to get the location exactly right, but whoever created this particular graphic needs a hasty Geography lesson, as they clearly haven’t attempted to get the Margate label even close to its south-eastern home.

Where have the missing votes gone?

Yesterday, I signed a petition to support a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition local election candidate.

It’s unlikely to happen too often, I remain committed to UKIP. However, the matter at hand is not their policies, but democracy. Specifically, that we in a democratic society should be able to trust when the votes are declared that the result is accurate.

When Neil Davies, the Returning Officer, was announcing the number of votes cast for each candidate in the Rainham North ward, it should have been a routine matter, and it was treated as being a routine matter:

David John Carr, Conservative, 2,247
John Edward Castle, Liberal Democrat, 272
Paul Andrew Dennis, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition … 0

Cue gasps from those assembled at Medway Park, physically exhausted and mentally drained from a hard day’s campaigning, long night’s general election count and long evening’s local election count.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The story of Rainham North in 2015 was supposed to be the unseating of former Mayor of Medway, Vaughan Hewett, after his defection to UKIP. A candidate polling 0 votes – a first in Medway Council’s short history – was never in the script.

But there the story takes a sinister turn. Because, although the Returning Officer declared 0 votes, the candidate declared that he had voted for himself. So, apparently, did his family. So where did their votes go?

It is a question for which Mr Dennis is eager to receive an answer:

This is impossible. The result sticks out like a sore thumb. I know people who have voted for me. I live in the ward and definitely voted for myself! Since the result was announced others have been on touch to say they also voted for me. So why have our votes not been counted? The council needs to answer this.

On that last point, I couldn’t agree more. The council does need to answer this. Not because it will have any material effect on the outcome (it is extremely unlikely that over 1,900 TUSC votes went awry, which is what it would have taken to win a seat). The mere fact that there is a question mark hanging over this one ward means that there is, in many people’s minds, a question mark hanging over every result that was declared at Medway Park.

Most people who believe in democracy believe in a free and fair democracy. Whilst there is no suggestion that the election wasn’t free, how can it be assessed to be fair if a candidate’s votes appear to have gone missing? How can any impartial observer have faith in the remainder of the results if one of them appears to be inaccurate?

Unlikely though it may appear on the surface, there may be a rational explanation for the missing votes. But we don’t know – and we won’t know all the while Medway Council remains disinterested. Their reaction so far is one of apathy. The matter is not being treated with the seriousness it should merit – or, indeed, any seriousness at all. That is, frankly, unacceptable.

That is why I signed the petition – and I would urge each one of you to do the same. Because no matter where you lie on the political spectrum, you should be concerned that votes appear to have gone missing. It undermines democracy and damages faith in the electoral process.

Medway Council must investigate what has happened to these votes – and assure voters that such confusion can never arise again.