Cllr Phil Turner is the Leader of Basildon Council
In May this year, Basildon residents voted to end a decade of outstanding Conservative contribution by making Basildon No Overall Control. There was no consolation in the process that a Labour opposition, salivating in the wings thinking it would pick up seats at Conservatives expense got a right royal ballot box kicking leaving the Conservatives 17, UKIP 12, Labour 11, Independent Labour two and Liberals one.
Life is strange living with UKIP.
Firstly, who are they? No one knows precisely what they stand for including themselves, making policy up as they go and without a whip you can’t trust any agreements made will be followed through when it comes to voting.
UKIP’s composition attracts all sorts, comrades on the left through to those on the right. We don’t get suckered in to doing business with those on the right, this is not a cosy relationship. Undoubtedly they are the enemy and will slice and dice Conservatives given the chance.
It isn’t true that they are weird and wacky. Yes some are, wandering aimlessly through Council like the undead, with odd values and even odder sense of logic, not fitting in with the world around them. Others though are intelligent and politically savvy. They get the bigger picture.
More irritating are the UKIP Red Brigade. In Basildon’s case they are Labourites that have failed to come to power under a socialist banner. Now hiding under a UKIP flag of convenience they won seats wrenched from previously good strong Conservative wards. Their biggest contribution to date has been trying to change from a cabinet to a committee system that would see them team up with their Labour pals and allow them to run the council via the back door.
Interestingly this proposal was defeated when UKIP split firmly down the middle, even though the committee system is UKIP policy.
Long before now we could have developed a victim mentality, but far from it. Dealing with UKIP is part of our normal business. We deal with them as with any other party, tactically and strategically. They think only they know how to spend residents’ money. They think they are on the side of public opinion. They think they are at the heart of a revolution. It’s all half-truths of course but our job is to communicate to our electorate their frailties, their failings and expose their vulnerability.
UKIP’s biggest claim to fame is immigration, their badge of office. So we go after things that are conservative’s strengths particularly emphasising our ability to run the finances better than anyone delivering great services and lower council tax. We set the agenda, we don’t follow theirs.
They are fresh and unbloodied – riding high having gone from one councillor to 12. Our job is to wear them down to show our electorate what it is divides us from the reality of UKIP.
They should enjoy their victories while they can. We will need something more from Westminster but locally we have picked up the fight and hope to have fun riding the wave back to better times.