UKIP defies the odds

EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES gives a personal reflection on the European election resultsUKIP's rise to a soaring electoral success was not, even as recently as Easter, foreseen by anyone other than the party' strategists and those who dared to hope that the British people would show their anger at Europe's increasing federal tendency.

EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES gives a personal reflection on the European election results

UKIP's rise to a soaring electoral success was not, even as recently as Easter, foreseen by anyone other than the party' strategists and those who dared to hope that the British people would show their anger at Europe's increasing federal tendency.

The Prime Minister had hoped that by agreeing to call a referendum on the European Constitution, he would effectively call the Eurosceptics' bluff and prevent last week's European Parliament elections turning into a Labour rout.

All Mr Blair did was to prepare a launch pad for UKIP to pander to millions of voters who are instinctively anti-European Union and who do not want to go down the road which they fear will lead to a single European nation state.


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Caught up in the middle and taken totally unawares was Michael Howard's Tories, whose shambolic European campaign was cruelly exposed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

Mr Howard resorted to brand UKIP supporters "gadflies" and other insulting remarks which probably led to thousands of angry middle Englanders to vote UKIP to try to force the Conservatives into a more robust Eurosceptic message.

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What can Mr Howard do? Pander to the siren voices who want to quit the EU altogether, or does he ignore them, which is what the Prime Minister intends to do later this week when he defiantly signs the European constitution?

For Howard, it is Catch 22. He dare not shift the Tories any further away from a position of staying in a twin speed EU while proclaiming they do "not wanting to live in a country called Europe."

But in the East of England as in the other regions of England, UKIP's message exposed the paucity of the Conservative policy and threatens to cause chaos to the Tories' General Election campaign.

Nowhere will that be more chilling than in Harwich where, I understand, UKIP will find a leading "name" to head a high profile campaign and cash in on its success at topping last week's poll in Tendring district.

North Essex and Braintree will also get the UKIP special treatment – all three parliamentary constituencies saw thousands of Essex Tories in the election decamp to the simple message: "enough is enough – let's get out."

ON top of all its other difficulties, the Tories did not help themselves in the East of England. The failure to get millions of leaflets to sorting offices in time meant great chunks of Essex and Hertfordshire did not receive the Conservative message.

Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the party's media strategy was appalling. Labour had a professional media officer in place who understood what newspapers wanted – and delivered for them.

The Lib Dems, as usual, ran a highly effective media strategy from Cambridge. The Tories had no equivalent and their candidates seemed to be running individual re-election campaigns rather than a co-ordinated effort. The Tories peaked too early, organising media opportunities before polling day, whereas Labour's professionalism knew that the later the story, the more the impact.

In John Flack and Marion Little, the Tories have a highly capable regional chairman and election agent. But they were wrong-footed by the late decision to axe Bashir Khanbhai from the party's regional and were left to fend for themselves because Central Office seemed blind to the obvious – regional elections need a regional media operation.

On one "media opportunity" day last month the Tories sent shadow pensions spokesman David Willetts into Suffolk and Essex – not to meet those running for European office, but to campaign on behalf of parliamentary candidates.

Such ineptitudes cost votes.

By mid afternoon yesterday, the Conservatives were the only major party in the East of England not to have issued a statement to the media analysing their vote and thanking their supporters.

SEVEN white males will represent us in the European Parliament in the next five years. What an appalling indictment that is of the main parties who could not find between them a capable woman to put as number one on their lists.

FINALLY, a word about the count. The result was promised for 9.05pm but it was declared three hours later due in part to problems – not for the first time – in Colchester.

No facilities were provided for the media at the counting centre in Huntingdon. There were power sockets but no phone lines for laptops so everyone resorted to the old-fashioned dictating copy over mobile phones.

Candidates, wives, agents, and the media were given no special treatment on refreshments – and with the declaration running late, the bars and coffee stalls all closed early. The regional returning officer David Monks kept everyone in the dark about what the delay was and made no attempt to communicate with candidates or journalists.

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