Brandon Lewis is Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth. Follow Brandon on Twitter.
UKIP cost us control of Great Yarmouth Borough Council. A new Labour administration are in charge at the town hall, after taking four seats from the Conservatives, thanks to UKIP biting into our share of the vote. Labour were always likely to take one seat (won at the height of their own unpopularity in 2008) but the other three losses were because UKIP polled more than 20%. Labour ran a lacklustre campaign in the constituency and indirectly benefited from a significant protest vote.
Why did this happen? Was it the same underlying cause elsewhere in the country in places like Thurrock? Was it simply a combination of local factors; including UKIP offering an alternative where only Conservatives and Labour fight most seats?
I do not believe a fifth of voters in Great Yarmouth gave UKIP their support simply because they support their views on Europe. People were not protesting at the lack of a referendum on the subject. There are certainly vocal constituents that express that view strongly but it isn’t the fundamental reason. The message we were getting on the doorstep, particularly on polling day, was that people are finding times tough and see no change in their circumstances. They are desperate to see light at the end of the economic tunnel. They are frustrated at the cost of living, the price of fuel and a perceived lack of jobs. Despite our changes to the welfare system, they remain angry that people seem better off on benefits, whilst they themselves work hard to provide for their family.
UKIP used many of these issues to build a narrative that nothing has changed and the two main parties are as bad as each other. Both locally and nationally, we failed to tell our own story and develop our message, voters seem unsure about where we are heading. They want to see that the Conservatives are on the side of ordinary families and pensioners, which means we have to talk about the issues that concern them.
It does not mean we have to -as the media like to put it “lurch to the right” – but we do need to concentrate on talking about the everyday bread-and-butter issues that make a difference to people lives.