UKIP wins at Rochester and Strood, where the biggest competition was for the wooden spoon
UKIP’s victory in the Rochester & Strood By-Election was far from certain at the start of the campaign. But by the polling day, it was the closest thing to a certainty that one could hope for during these turbulent times. The biggest challenge for pundits was to predict which of the main parties would lose.
Mark Reckless, who switched from the Conservatives and UKIP earlier in the year, won the seat by his new party with 2,920 votes. His old party came second. The biggest surprise was in the race for the wooden spoon.
During the majority of the campaign, it appeared that the Conservatives would suffer the most. They campaigned as promised in Rochester and Strood, with the Prime Minister leading the way. They had no effect on opinion polls, except perhaps to boost UKIP’s position. Labour and Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, tried to pretend the by-election didn’t happen.
The Conservatives, and David Cameron, have done better than the two traditional opponents, even though the outcome is bad. The margin of UKIP’s victory being less than 10 percentage points allows Rochester and Strood to be classified as “hugely embarrassing” instead of “completely disastrous”.
Analysts claim that UKIP may have identified 270 more seats that could be won than Rochester and Strood. However, it is unlikely that there will be 270 candidates in the next general elections who are ex-Conservative MPs fighting for their old constituencies as UKIP candidates.
The Rochester and Strood results make further Conservative defections more unlikely. David Cameron and his supporters can take comfort in the fact that national opinion surveys suggest there is still a chance of a general election.
There is no consolation for Labour or the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have capped a miserable run of results by securing less than 1% at Rochester and Strood.
The Lib Dems were expected to leak their support, but the by-election confirmed that many of them are voting for UKIP and others are now voting for Labour. The only realistic hope for the party is that the incumbency factor, which helped UKIP in Clacton, and now in Rochester and Strood will allow them to survive after May 2015.
Labour has managed to outdo the Lib Dems in terms of disaster.
Thornberry was unable to stand. Yui Mok/PA
The social media gaffe of Labour MP Emily Thornbury, who resigned from the front bench after Tweeting a photo of a Rochester home decorated with English flags, has attracted a lot of attention.
This was not the end of the campaign. It is a campaign that surely surpasses the 1983 Bermondsey By-Election as one of Labour’s darkest moments.
The SNP’s ever-increasing surge in Scotland, combined with the surveys that highlight UKIP’s appeal among disgruntled Labour supporters throughout England, presents strategists of the party with a nightmare. Labour’s chances to win an outright majority or form a coalition at the next elections depend on a heroic effort by core supporters in their heartlands. Labor, however, has been trying to lose these traditional supporters ever since Blairism was introduced in 1994. UKIP will undoubtedly see these people as the most likely to jump on Farage’s wagon.
Twitter, besides triggering Thornbury’s resignation, has provided some fascinating insights into the campaign. The Green Party, not UKIP, was the winner in terms of gaining new followers. Its national following has increased to over 82,000. The Greens received 1,692 votes. UKIP’s social media campaign was energetic, but it still falls behind the Greens in terms of Twitter followers, with only 72,000.
David Cameron, for his part, tweeted about his unsuccessful visits to the Medway while the Conservative Party maintained a studious quiet. Cameron may be in trouble, but his campaign shows that he is not going to give up. This unquenchable savagery might be the lasting impression that the Rochester and Strood contest will have on Cameron, his party, and the general public. The Prime Minister could end up viewing a disaster predicted as a blessing disguised in a heavy coat.