Henry G Manson on the battle in the North East
Many expect UKIP to do well in next year’s European elections. The bookmakers have the purple party at 7/4 to get the most MEPs, with Labour the 4/5 favourite and Conservatives on 4/1. The purple party can look forward to plenty of media coverage and the recent conference embarrassments involving Godfrey Bloom don’t appear to have had much wider impact with their support.
One symbolic moment of these particular European elections could be the fate of Martin Callanan, the Conservative Party’s European Leader, who could be felled by UKIP in the North East. The Tory MEP is apparently under serious pressure in the race and his defeat would undoubtedly be a significant embarrassment for the Conservatives.
There are 3 North East MEP seats. Currently 1 is Labour, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Conservative. The Lib Dems are expected to lose their seat, Labour believe they can gain one more which will leave a hard-fought scrap between Conservatives and UKIP. In 2009 the North East vote was:
Liberal Democrats 103,644
English Democrats 13,007
Socialist Labour 10,228
The 26,211 gap between UKIP and the Conservatives does look achievable for UKIP given their electoral improvements since 2009. The region includes South Shields where the purple party finished a creditable second place in the by-election earlier this year.
Callanan is a hard right-winger and a strong Eurosceptic who also is Chairman of the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group. If Callanan loses it will have reverberations and open a much wider debate within the Conservative Party.
If Callanan can’t beat UKIP in an area he has represented since 1999, with the promise of a 2017 EU referendum, then it may not bode at all well for some Conservative MPs facing a UKIP challenge in 2015. It also begs the question, does there need to be more clear water between the two parties or less? Increasingly under Lynton Crosby the Conservative Party has moved towards UKIP’s terrain. But if the party’s Conservative European leader goes on to lose his seat, then some will question the political value of this approach.
This could be the big story of the election night.