Chris Richards is a member, Harwich and North Essex Conservative Association
After May’s disappointing European and local election results, the Conservatives now have something to cheer in North Essex after an impressive by-election victory last week.
The vacancy, in the Manningtree, Mistley, Little Bentley and Tendring ward on Tendring District Council (TDC), arose following the death of incumbent Tory councillor Sarah Candy in April.
With more than six months to go until TDC’s members are elected en masse, a by-election was necessary – and with the ruling Conservatives having a majority of just five, victory was very important.
Importantly, we were able to field a strong candidate in the form of Alan Coley, a well-known retired police officer, who spent 16 years of his career as a beat copper in the very ward up for grabs.
Mr Coley has additionally served as a member of nearby Lawford Parish Council for the past 12 years – the last three of them as chairman.
His credentials are impressive but the challenge facing him was a difficult one for two reasons.
Firstly, UKIP were on a high locally – in the European elections, Nigel Farage’s party polled 19,398 votes in the Tendring district, a whopping 9,417 more than the Conservatives in second place.
Secondly, despite plunging approval ratings and dismal local and European election results, the Liberal Democrats were able to field a strong candidate in Rosemary Smith, a former district councillor for the Manningtree ward from October 1983 to May 2002.
UKIP’s candidate Mark Cole, who only moved into the Tendring district in March, talked a good game on Facebook, but his actual campaign appeared to amount to little more than handing out a few leaflets in certain parts of the ward and garnering some support in one village pub.
By contrast, the Tories here were able to call on volunteers from across the district, including several serving councillors, to distribute leaflets, target postal voters etc throughout the entire ward over a period of four consecutive weekends.
This approach clearly paid dividends for in the end, our margin of victory was an impressive 227 votes – UKIP actually finished third, behind the Lib Dems and not too far ahead of Labour, a virtual non-entity in this area.
The voters here have spoken emphatically that when it comes to things such as setting their council tax, collecting their refuse etc UKIP cannot be trusted.
At 22.8 per cent, the turnout was low but with the election being held on the hottest day of the year so far and many people being away on their summer holidays this was perhaps not unexpected.
So, in North Essex at least, the UKIP juggernaut appears to have run out of steam.
Last week’s result puts all the momentum firmly back with the Conservatives and gives our party an important springboard for a successful local election campaign next year.