Essex turns to UKIP in county elections

UKIP leader Nigel Farage campaigning in Cambridgeshire for the county council elections. Photo: ITV Anglia

The Tories have been sent a warning in their traditional Essex heartland, losing nine county council seats to a bullish Ukip.

Conservatives have dominated Essex County Council since 1958 and, with 59 of the 75 seats going into the election, it was always a case of their grip being loosened rather than lost.

By the end of Thursday night the administration had lost 19 seats, with Labour also making unexpected gains.

New UKIP councillors said they hoped their success would send a message to Downing Street from the home of Basildon Man - long held as symbol of unwavering Tory support.

Along with their county council gains, the party won a long-held Tory seat in a Basildon Council by-election. Kerry Smith took first blood, winning Basildon Westley Heights. Mr Smith hopes to put himself forward as a Ukip parliamentary candidate in two years' time.

"People are angry at mainstream politicians because the three parties offer no choice. Every seat UKIP wins is a chance to show we are true to our word and can evolve to be taken seriously as a party."

– Kerry Smith, new Essex county councillor for UKIP

Nigel Le Gresley, who won Wickford Castledon in the Basildon Council by-election and Wickford Crouch in the county election, said he had swung from Liberal to Thatcherite before voting Labour in 1997.

But he said he had turned to UKIP after losing faith in "professional politicians".

"I hesitate to call them professional because that would credit them with a degree of competence they don't possess," he said.

"This is the quiet revolution of a striving class.

"I believe it is more than just a protest vote. But if it is a protest vote, what's the harm in that? Politics is about protest."

Conservative Tony Ball says "people want to give us a kick".

Basildon Council's Conservative leader Tony Ball said the party had to learn lessons from Ukip's surge, both at local and national level.

"Locally we have to reconnect with the electorate but we can't be naive about the fact these results are heavily influenced by people's feelings about the Government," he said.

"On the doorstep the message I'm getting is people want to give us a kick.

"I get the sense they are only lending their vote to UKIP but we can't take it for granted that we'll get it back. Nationally we need to offer a referendum on the EU, not only because it's the right thing to do but because it would also be politically very astute."

– Tony Ball, Conservative leader, Basildon Council
Baroness Angela Smith was the Labour MP for Basildon from 1997 until 2010. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Labour began Thursday night with just two county councillors but inflicted further damage, gaining seven.

But Baroness Angela Smith, the town's former Labour MP, said it was not only the Conservatives that had to learn lessons from UKIP's progress.

"They will predominantly take votes from the Tories but they are capable of damaging all three parties," she said.

"People like UKIP because they're not politicians.

"But it would be unwise to dismiss them as a protest vote."