Cameron promised to “throw the kitchen sink” at the Rochester & Strood byelection, however it seems that his kitchen sink has shattered on the doorstep of Nigel Farage. Enjoying a pint at ‘The Nags Head’ in downtown Rochester with his newly elected representative Mark Reckless, photographers pictured an idealist scene as Farage gleamed in his ‘everyday man image’ in front of the cameras. It makes one wonder whether that voters endorsed Nigel Farage’s approachable image instead of the slightly awkward manner of Mark Reckless, however regardless of these connotations there is no doubt that UKIP has capitalised on the disgruntlement of the many, not the few.
The fact that the Conservative Party fielded a young local candidate Kelly Tolhurst with a grassroot agenda may sound like an ideal proposition, the Conservatives went on to lose around 10,000 votes compared to the 2010 Election, in what was considered an incredibly safe seat. It is not unusual for the current government to lose a byelection by any means, but this result for the Conservative candidate reveals a disgruntlement within the party itself, not necessarily the candidate. While it was highly unlikely that the Labour Party would have prospered in this formerly safe Conservative seat, the behaviour of Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry overshadowed Milibands chances of making any leeway at all. Carelessly tweeting a photo of a terraced house draped in three England flags, the property owner deemed the Islington Labour MP to be a ‘snob’ whilst the Labour backbencher denounced her as ‘out of touch’. Several hours after the flagfallout she tendered her resignation, an appalling performance by the Labour Party trying to salvage any sort of credibility with a byelection 6 months away from the General Election.
William Hague has been dispatched to soften the blow for the Tories, claiming that this was a “dramatically closer result” compared to Clacton. Unfortunately ‘dramatic’ is not the right word to describe this byelection. This election was highly predictable as was the Clacton election on October. What David Cameron can take comfort in would be the slightly better margin between UKIP and the Conservatives compared to their last byelection. They put in much more effort in this byelection than in the Clacton election, but this did not pay off. A typical byelection performance for a party in governance. The Labour Party are the real losers in Rochester and Strood, sure it is not a safe Labour seat, but they would have been better off not to bothering participating at all. The past few weeks have been a disaster for Ed Miliband, and the main opposition party Labour should be gaining ground 6 months before the General Election, but this ground has been lost to UKIP. The ‘flaggate’ tweet from Emily Thornberry alienated much of the core vote for Labour, even outside of Rochester & Strood.
UKIP may glee at their second byelection victory, however they must make the distinction between byelections and elections. Nigel Farage faces an enormous uphill battle in the next 6 months as the General Election is often reserved for the ‘bigboys’. The Conservatives did not perform terribly, but rather they performed in line with the average byelection while in Government even in a safe seat. Labour still need to find their ground, the idea of the ‘Traditional’ Labour vote is evaporating and they may have to focus only on it’s northern heartland to gain any credibility.
S.P Chapman (@SP_Chapman)