Thursday 15th December saw the final day of the Feltham and Heston by-election, with polling stations opening at 7am and a final push from UKIP activists to try and make Andrew Charalambous (above) a common sight as the new MP at Westminster.
Feltham & Heston has been a safe Labour seat for many years, and a victory would have been highly unlikely. However, with the economy and the effect of the EU upon it on our news screens daily, hopes were high of a top three finish and a continued surge in the ratings.
In to the fray
I arrived at campaign HQ around 10am to find Operations director Lisa Duffy busily organising the plan of action for the day. Janice Small was in the office manning the phone lines, and had already been on polling station duty before I had arrived.
This is a vital part of any election, and you may well have seen various political party’s ‘Tally counters’ when you have been to vote before. The rules state that no canvassing or promotion can be done at the polling station, but you are allowed to say good morning/afternoon and wear a rosette as long as it does not mention the word ‘vote’ on it. You may ask for the polling card number which identifies that voter, but you are not allowed to ask how they have voted (Although there is no problem if somebody volunteers that information to you, and you can answer a direct question from the voter). The idea of this is that the information can be fed back to your campaign HQ, and you can see which areas have good turnouts and if people who have pledged to vote for you have actually been and done so. If you have not seen the voter number of your supporter turn up on the tally card, then you can give them a gentle nudge by phone or doorknock to get down to the station for you. (The electoral register that candidates are given when standing carries a voter number next to it so you can cross reference)
It also lets you know who has said they will vote and has, giving you an idea of where your potential support is coming from next time.
After three hours of freezing cold and a surprisingly low number of people turning out I called in to take a lunch break, dropping back to the office to hand in my tally sheet and from there in to the cafe next door for a fry up and a much needed mug of tea. Refreshed and thawed out, I was then despatched to my second polling station of the day to relieve a young lady who had been working away at the tally sheet since early in the morning – Fortunately, this one was a scout hut and I could stand inside next to the radiator! For the second time, I found myself stood next to a Conservative activist who happily chatted away to pass the time between people arriving. The Conservatives were rotating their tellers on an hourly basis, and had brought people in from all over London and the South East. Like ourselves, they had called out a number of elected officials to help on the day and raise profile. I had yet to see a Labour activist, but was informed by my Tory counterparts that they were receiving information that they were concentrating on Heston as it’s demographic was more suited to their potential support.
It was also around this time that the strains of ‘The Great Escape’ could be heard echoing down the streets – The UKIP lorry was out with a huge TV screen on the back which had a series of rolling logos being displayed, the music being reference to a speech that party leader Nigel Farage had made in Brussels earlier in the week. The young lady stood next to me with the blue rosette said she would be cursing us all night if she couldn’t get the tune out of her head!
After an hour or so, I was relieved at the station and advised to report back to HQ, where Lisa put me on doorknocking duty. Basically, I had a shoulder bag full of campaign newsletters (Left) with a leaflet inside, and the idea was to remind people that if they hadn’t voted or were unaware of what was going on to get out and down to the polling station.
With darkness now fallen, I spent around an hour and a half picking out houses with lights on, knocking on doors with a cheesey grin and politely reminding people that there was an election on. I have yet to meet anyone who truly likes doorknocking within the political crowd, but it can be effective and a few people I spoke with did comment that they had forgotten and thanked me for the reminder. I also got more than a few cases of ‘twitchy curtain’, where the residents probably took a peek and thought, “Oh no, not him again!” and went back to their TV’s!
With my stash of newspapers exhausted, I returned to the office which was now a hive of activity. The familiar figure of Gerard Batten MEP was manning a phone, Winston McKenzie was taking a well earned dinner break after pounding the streets with Andrew and National Council member Steve Crowther was assisting Lisa Duffy who was in the thick of things organising everyone once again. I was despatched back tothe scout hut for my final tally session, finally stopping at nine and going back to campaign HQ.
Out for the Count
By a quarter to ten, the office was full with around twenty people all chatting about their day and how it had gone. The initial signs were very good, and most reported a positive response although the turn out from the tally cards seemed to be very low. I had noticed myself that the main people who had been in to the polling stations during my three stints had been predominently from the over 40 age section and the ethnic minority community. I find this trend very worrying as it suggests to me a disengagement from the electoral process by a large part of our society. Maybe the elderly use their right to vote as they are more aware of the sacrifices that were made to give them that right, whilst many of the minority communities cherish theirs maybe because they have been denied similar freedoms in their own countries?
Whatever the reasons, this is a malaise that needs to be rectified as our country and our society suffer – To those who told me, “I don’t bother voting because nothing will change”, I suggest they DO vote so things CAN change!
By 10pm, many of our supporters were drifting away to the count at Hounslow town hall. I had been advised earlier that the tickets to get in were strictly limited and there were nowhere near enough for the activists and supporters we had put out. The general consensus was that those who could not get in would meet in a pub local to the count and carry on from there. I gave a lift to one of our activists to the Feltham National Rail station, but then got completely lost in Hounslow and after circling trying to find my way for ten minutes thought better of it and headed home to watch the result on the news at home with a bottle of Vina Sol!
I settled down to watch events, flicking between Sky News and the BBC. Both Nigel Farage and Andrew Charalambous were interviewed, and the point was put across that David Cameron’s use of the veto in Brussels over the financial transaction tax could adversely affect our vote. Whilst acknowledging the argument, both leader and candidate pointed out that Mr Cameron’s ‘standing up for Britain’ is not all that it seems and is more a short term political gesture than a long term plan to give us a referendum and at the very least repatriate powers which is part of the Conservative manifesto.
The commentators on both channels fairly early on came to the conclusion that this was going to be an easy Labour hold,but that it was too close to call between UKIP and the Liberal Democrats for third.
Finally, at around 1.30pm, the Returning Officer came to the microphone to announce the result. It appeared we were correct concerning the tunrout, which was announced at just 28.8 % of those eligible (23,299 used their vote). This is the lowest turn out for a Parliamentary by-election in 11 years.
The result was as follows –
Labour – 12.639 votes (54.4%)
Conservative – 6,436 (27.7%)
Liberal Democrats – 1,364 (5.9%)
UKIP – 1,276 votes (5.5%)
BNP – 540 votes (2.4%)
Green – 426 votes (1.8%)
English Democrats – 322 votes (1.2%)
London People before profit – 128 votes (0.6%)
Bus Pass Elvis Party – 93 (0.4%)
An Encouraging Performance
Whilst many of us were hoping for third place, fourth is still a very encouraging and respectable result taken in the context of where we were in this constituency before the election and where we stand now after such a short campaign (The BBC website quotes the average time between a by-election being called and the vote going ahead is 73 days, yet we had just 35 days in Feltham & Heston)
Sky News when reporting on the result last night showed four rosettes on their coverage, marking us out as now being considered a mainstream party. Likewise, after being trounced in the last by-election in Barnsley by UKIP and having suffered in local elections, the Liberal Democrats targetted us with a last ditch leaflet yesterday (left) saying that we were polling in fifth with just 2% of the vote – A clear case of using last year’s figures to try and project an incorrect image of the real situation!
Taken in the context of the 2010 General Election result, Andrew Charalambous was spot on when commenting on the news channels last night. He correctly pointed out that UKIP were the only one of the parties who contested the seat last year to increase not only their number of votes, but also the percentage (992 votes and 2% to 1,276 votes and 5.5%). This has been done in three weeks in an area that would not be considered traditional UKIP territory, so what will the result be like next time around with the active local branch that looks likely to grow from the embers of this campaign?
It was also really encouraging to be a member of a party where the National Council members and party leader are all prepared to roll up their sleeves and get out on the streets and support their candidate. I am convinced that Nigel Farage must be running on Duracell, bearing in mind that he has made numerous appearances on the campaign trail, has been on all the news channels and has still found time to travel to Brussels and harangue the unelected clique in the EU who are threatening the sovereignty and stability of our country.
Likewise, Gerard Batten has spent more time campaigning over the last 3 weeks than I have and has also fitted in his MEP duties and TV appearances around this.
GLA mayoral candidate Lawrence Webb has also been out in support, and the energy of Operations Director Lisa Duffy in getting things organised has been nothing short of inspirational. She got a well deserved round of applause at the Campaign HQ last night from UKIP activists, and rightly so.
GLA Elections 2012
The next major elections up for contest are the GLA and London Mayoral elections is May next year.
UKIP already have our mayoral candidate, Lawrence Webb, in place and will be fielding a strong line up. A unique part of the GLA Elections is the ‘Party List Vote’, where members are elected to the London assembly based on a percentage share of the vote across London. If our current poll ratings were replicated in this vote, then two UKIP members would be elected to give a voice to our capital city. The result in Feltham & Heston shows that UKIP can be the new voice to take the fight to the old three establishment parties in the new year.
Would you like to help in the GLA 2012 Elections? If so, please contact our campaign team on 020 8816 8112 or visit our site www.ukipmayor.com