Cllr Nicholas Bennett is a former Conservative MP and a councillor in Bromley
When it was announced that the European elections were being held on the same day as the local elections many of my colleagues were rightly concerned about the possible impact of a UKIP surge on the local poll.
We already knew from extensive canvassing that Bromley Council was held in high regard by residents for its low tax, good value for money services and the challenge therefore was to ensure that this translated into a positive vote on May 22nd.
Our excellent borough agent Andrew Lee and council leader Stephen Carr drew up a simple but effective differentiation strategy. An introductory leaflet giving details of the candidates in the ward together with the party’s achievements in managing Bromley’s affairs since 2001 was delivered to every home in mid April.
This was followed up by a second leaflet in the same house style but a different format in early to mid May. Each repeated the same pledges of low council tax, a lean and efficient council, care for the elderly and vulnerable, choice and quality in education and a clean, safe and green borough.
In my ward a letter topped and signed by all candidates in an envelope was hand delivered on May 8th and 9th to all Conservative and possible pledges. A similar letter together with a Get the Vote Out flyer on white card was delivered to the non postal vote pledges in the final few days of the campaign, each repeated the campaign themes.
The Conservative Group allocated funds to three key marginal wards and every councillor in a safe ward was asked to devote most of their time to one of the marginal seats. The effect of the strategy can be seen in the Bromley results for the local and European elections.
Although the impact of UKIP was considerable with an average vote of 20.2 per cent in the Borough election, which reduced the Conservative vote to 39.6 per cent compared with 49.6 per cent in 2010 (a General election turnout) and 54.6 per cent in 2006, only three seats were lost and we actually gained one from the Lib Dems. We even recaptured a seat from UKIP which they had gained in March by defection.
Our objective (with the help of the Labour Party in Crystal Palace and Clockhouse wards) of removing the last vestige of Lib Demmery was achieved. They scored a borough average of 8.8% and were beaten by the Greens on 12% and Labour on 17.6%. The Party which ran Bromley in coalition with Labour from 1998-2001 has ceased to be.
What was noticeable about the UKIP vote was that it rose in line with socio-demographic trends. The wards with the most C1,C2 D and E voters and fewest ethnic minorities and furthest from inner London polled the highest for UKIP whilst those nearest to inner London showed a vote half that of the average for the borough.
The impact of UKIP as the new ‘protest’ vote party was also obvious from watching the split votes at the count. Where UKIP only had one or two candidates in a three member ward many of the third votes went to a wide variety of parties many with diametrically opposing views!
The European count on Sunday revealed the success of the differentiation strategy. UKIP’s vote rose to 30.8% of the vote and the Conservative was just 1.3 per cent ahead at 32.1 per cent. 8 wards (21 seats) which were won by us in the borough elections were won by UKIP in the Euros.