UKIP have been dismissed as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” by none other than our illustrious leader and prime minister, David Cameron.
Well, that tactic of insulting your electorate is now consigned to the dustbin of campaign tactics at Conservative HQ. Now the creepy line is “go to bed with Farage, wake up with Miliband”. But that doesn’t seem to be working either and someone is clearly not doing their job well in Tory high command.
Last night, former Tory Douglas Carswell romped to victory in Clacton-on-Sea with a thumping majority of 12,404 with almost 60% of the vote on a 50% turnout. Mr Carswell resigned as a Conservative MP in August and stood as the UKIP candidate in the subsequent by-election yesterday. I heard throughout the campaign from the editor of BBC Look East through to the more eccentric Tory activists that the Conservatives were going to win in Clacton. Well, anyone who has visited Clacton over the last few weeks, as I have, could tell you UKIP were storming home to victory, energised not just by an anti-politics sentiment amongst the voters but, of course, Douglas Carswell’s personal vote as well. Shock, horror, but a right-wing Tory MP was actually quite popular in his constituency!
Although the Clacton result broke all by-election records, the real fright of the night for the established parties was the other by-election in Heywood and Middleton – caused by the death of the sitting Labour MP Jim Dobbin – when a recount was ordered as the result between Labour and UKIP was so close. In the end, Labour only just pipped UKIP to the post with a majority of 617, down from almost 6000 when Labour held the seat at the 2010 General Election – a 17.65% swing from Labour to UKIP. Nigel Farage had not campaigned in the seat as his canvassers were telling him it was lost.
Next stop on the by-election campaign trail is Rochester and Strood where former Conservative Mark Reckless defected to UKIP on the eve of the Tory Conference earlier this month. The date for the poll is yet to be announced.