UKIP has won the by-election for the Kent constituency of Rochester & Strood following the defection of former Conservative Mark Reckless to UKIP and his decision to stand again for election as a UKIP candidate.
The final result is:
UKIP: 42.1 per cent
Conservatives: 34.8 per cent
Labour: 16.8 per cent
Liberal Democrats: 0.9 per cent
Other: 5.5 per cent (the Green Party took 4.2 per cent of the overall vote)
In his comments following his re-election, Reckless told Sky News that UKIP are “the agents of change”. The majority of 2,920 votes based on a turnout of 50.67 per cent (40,113 votes) is not as impressive as many in the Conservative Party had previously feared with a margin of 7.3 per cent. Meanwhile the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats had a very bad night with Labour’s vote share down from 28.5 per cent (2010) to 16.8 per cent whilst the Liberal Democrats crashed to 0.9 per cent from the 16.3 per cent they polled in 2010. The LibDems performance is actually the worst ever on record for a main political party in any election. It’s also worth noting that the Green Party won over four times as many votes as the LibDems.
Despite the Conservative Chief Whip Michael Gove claiming there will be no further defections from his Party to UKIP, the Conservative Party Chairman Grant Schapps declined to endorse that prediction when interviewed this morning. The size of UKIP’s majority, especially given this is a by-election where voters like to reject the incumbent political Party means that their hopes of retaining the seat in the General Election next May are rather weak.
All eyes will be on serial dissenters in the Conservative Party such as Adam Holloway and Philip Hollobone in the coming days to see whether they defect to UKIP. In the Conservatives’ favour is that any defectors have a limited window of time. If they don’t defect very soon then they face the prospect of the Government not moving a by-election writ and waiting for the General Election to select the MP. Practically this means six months with no salary and facing the general onslaught of campaigning in the General Election where, far from being a cause célèbre they will be just one of over (potentially) 100 UKIP candidates.
Whilst some suggest that tonight’s vote puts pressure on the PM’s leadership the impact of the result has been lessened somewhat by two things; firstly the smaller than expected scale of UKIP’s victory and secondly by the resignation of the former Shadow Attorney General which has created a string of negative news stories for Labour and Ed Miliband. Interestingly the Conservatives have confirmed that their candidate for the by-election will definitely stand in the General Election which suggests, given her severely anti-immigrant rhetoric, that Conservative Central Office will allow candidates facing UKIP insurgents to adopt rather tougher messaging on the EU and migration during the GE2015 campaign.
The result will give all the main party leaders food for thought though as UKIP’s victory saw the Party receive support from across the voting population. As of this hour there has been no response from the PM directly, but this will largely follow the line that he has previously used. Namely that if people want a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU then they will need to return a majority Conservative Government at the General Election.