Elaine O’Flynn reflects on the possible ramifications of the local election results
THIS election was always going to be different.
With UKIP dominating the national headlines and the European ballot on the same day, the potential for upset at Bolton Town Hall was potent.
This, and the fact UKIP have never fought a local election before — bar a number of Horwich by-elections — meant no-one was sure what impact the party was going to make.
As the ballot boxes rolled into Bolton Arena and the counting began, you could cut the tension with a knife.
Usually at counts, groups of campaigners clamour for a space among marginal seats, eagerly carrying out their own straw polls to get a premature calculation.
This year only the Liberal Democrats huddled protectively around Smithills — everyone else spread thinly, desperately watching each ward. No-one felt safe.
The results reflect this. Labour maintained significant overall control, but it will be extremely worrying to the leadership that in traditional strongholds — Little Lever, Kearsley, Farnworth and Tonge with the Haulgh — UKIP is now hot on its tails.
Senior members of Labour and the Conservatives readily admitted their own research, carried out of the doorstep, did not tally with the official count.
People weren’t admitting to voting UKIP when visited by other parties, they argued — they were ashamed to vote for them, and did so in stealth.
So why have people voted UKIP? The European elections and extra national attention will be a factor, but Bolton residents are clearly worried about immigration and UKIP has articulated that fear successfully.
When UKIP councillors Paul Richardson and Diane Parkinson take their seats in the council chamber, they will have no say on UK border regulations.
But the mere fact they now sit in the town hall in the place of well-known and established local councillors should act as a message to national leaders that Bolton and Britain are ready and want a debate on Europe.
Combined with the MEP elections on Sunday, UKIP’s political earthquake in Bolton will surely send tremors in Westminster.
The only question left is will they listen?
ELECTION FACTS AND FIGURES
- Number of polling stations: 109
- Number of ballot boxes: 125
- Turnout: 37.3 per cent (compared to 32 per cent in 2012)
- Total number of postal voting applications: 33,960 (compared with 34,731 in 2012 — a two per cent reduction)
- Total electorate: 199,089
- Vote count: 74,294
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