Groups of UKIP councillors sometimes implode, and there are plenty of resignations and expulsions. Recently Cllr Steve Smith defected from UKIP to the Labour Party. He represents West Heath Ward on Rushmoor Borough Council. This is a traditionally safe Conservative ward. I don’t know what residents will make of finding themselves represented by a Labour councillor. To add to the muddle, Cllr Smith used to be a Conservative.
Overall, UKIP has made gains from defections but the above example indicates how unreliable they can be and how they often lack any clear political meaning. One councillor defected from the Conservatives to UKIP in protest at the top rate of income tax being cut from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. He complained this was “helping the rich”. Another couple of Conservative councillors joined UKIP as they thought cutting the tax rate to 45 per cent was too modest and it should have come down to 40 per cent.
Usually defections have little to do with policy. There is a tendency for councillors who have been deselected by Labour or the Conservatives to join UKIP as a way of highlighting their grievances, and to find a new home. Previously they would have sat as independents.
The three Labour councillors in Barking and Dagenham who have defected to UKIP have voiced concerns about immigration and the need for an EU referendum. They may well be sincere. But the main reason is that they fell out with their colleagues.
Last month a Lib Dem councillor in Worthing, Cllr Trevor England, joined UKIP saying their lack of any system of “whipping” was the “clincher”. A Labour councillor in Northampton defected to UKIP after she failed to be elected Labour Group leader.
A Labour councillor in Grimsby joined UKIP as she did not want to be “tied down by dogma”.
A Conservative councillor in Buckinghamshire switched to UKIP over HS2 – a policy UKIP used to support.
One can look into each story of a UKIP defection, but the pattern is that there is no pattern. Defections attract a wide array of new recruits and UKIP can hold together as they are always in opposition and avoid joining any coalition grouping to actually run a council.
However, there are also hazards for UKIP in attracting malcontents. Their new recruits are spurred on by an array of personal resentments and protests, rather than clear convictions. That is why so often they become messy, making the Party still more fractious.