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High-rolling UKIP eyes Birmingham city council elections

High-rolling UKIP eyes Birmingham city council elections

🕔28.Apr 2014

UKIP’s strong showing in opinion polls over several months suggests Nigel Farage’s party will do very well at the European elections on May 22, quite possibly winning a higher percentage of votes cast than Labour or the Conservatives.

The latest YouGov poll puts UKIP on 31 per cent, Labour on 28 per cent, Conservatives on 19 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on nine per cent.

It is unclear whether this surge of anti-EU sentiment will spill over into the Birmingham City Council elections, which are being held on the same day. UKIP will field 30 candidates, contesting three-quarters of the seats up for grabs, and will hope to record its strongest ever showing across the city.

Many mainstream politicians have convinced themselves that UKIP merely attracts a single-issue protest vote with the party’s supporters eager to register their dislike of all things Brussels. Those that turn out in their thousands to vote for UKIP European Parliament candidates won’t bother to back the party’s local government candidates and will revert to the traditional parties or not bother to vote at all, it is claimed.

If a strong UKIP vote does occur at the Birmingham council elections, both Labour and the Conservative parties could be in trouble since UKIP has candidates in the more marginal wards. The turmoil that would be inflicted on the two main parties if  backing for Mr Farage and his candidates gets anywhere near 30 per cent at the city council polls is all too obvious.

The received wisdom is that UKIP picks up most of its support from disgruntled Conservatives.

But this idea is being challenged by senior Labour party figures who have warned of UKIP’s appeal to white working class areas where communities feel marginalised and let down by traditional political parties. Lord Glasman, a policy adviser to Ed Miliband, recently joined John Cruddas MP in warning that UKIP had the potential to be a significant threat to the Labour Party.

Lord Glasman told The Times newspaper there was a feeling of “dispossession and abandonment” among working class communities who felt a “middle class” Labour Party was not for them.

While it seems unlikely that UKIP can muster enough votes in any single ward to win a Birmingham city council seat, the party’s candidates can certainly influence results. In Edgbaston, for example, Tory councillor Fergus Robinson is defending a majority of 796 against Labour. If UKIP candidate Keith Rowe picks up a significant amount of Tory support, Cllr Robinson could be in trouble.

The Conservatives are fighting to save their last remaining seat in Harborne, where Labour has won at the past two elections. The Tories are backing former councillor John Alden to replace ex-council leader Mike Whitby. The UKIP candidate is Charles Brecknell.

If UKIP does succeed in attracting support from white working class areas, watch out for a shock result in Kingstanding. Labour lost a by-election there earlier in the year to the Tories. This time, Labour group secretary Des Hughes is up for re-election and, on paper, should easily defend his 580 majority. However, if UKIP candidate Jan Higgins can get the backing of fed-up Labour supporters, Cllr Hughes could be in trouble.

In Longbridge, another area of working class council estates, Labour’s Iain Cruise is defending a slender 117-vote majority. The Conservatives have held this ward in the past, so the presence of UKIP candidate Steven Brookes could be a determining factor.

And the presence in Weoley of UKIP candidate Kevin Morris could definitely be bad news for one of the main parties. In 2010, when these seats were last contested, Tory Peter Douglas Osborn beat his Labour opponent by 64 votes. In 2012 it was even closer, with Tory Eddie Freeman beating Labour’s Steve Booton by just two votes. On this occasion, any votes leeching to UKIP really could decide the result in the favour of either Cllr Douglas Osborn or Labour’s Stephen Booton.

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