UKIP victory in Rochester – Tories’ woes masked by Labour’s troubles

By Martin Smith | 21 November 2014
UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Pic credit: Jennifer Jane Mills

UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Pic credit: Jennifer Jane Mills

On the morning of UKIP’s election victory in the Rochester and Strood byelection, the story of the day should have been the crisis faced by the David Cameron and his government as they lose a second seat in less than a month.

But instead the Labour leadership has given the Tory press an alternative narrative – the resignation of Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general.

She “resigned” over a tweet she sent showing a terraced house with three England flags and a white van parked outside. Alongside the picture, she wrote: “Image from Rochester”.

The Sun front page 21.11.14

The Sun front page 21.11.14

A spokesperson for Ed Milliband briefed the BBC last night saying, “Ed was incandescent with rage with Emily.”

Thornberry’s tweet was insensitive and, yes, it represents a strand of anti-working class snobbery that sadly is common in some sections of the Labour Party.

But for a party that supports war and austerity but can’t bring itself to back public sector strikers, to oppose the cap on benefits or stand up against anti-immigrant rhetoric, it can hardly be regarded as a resignation matter. By accepting her resignation, Ed Miliband has shot himself in the foot.

UKIP’s win

But now to the main and most important story of the evening, once again UKIP have won another Parliamentary by-election – this time in Rochester and Strood.

UKIP also won a council by-election in the same constituency that night.

Rochester & Strood by-election Nov 2014

Party Vote % of vote
UKIP 16,867 42%
Conservative 13,947 35%
Labour 6,713 17%
Green 1,692 4%
Lib Dems 349 1%

Turnout: 50.6%

Rochester and Strood – general election 2010

Party Vote % of vote
Conservative 23,604 49.2%
Labour 13,651 28.5%
Lib Dem 7,800 16.3%
English Democrats 2,182 4.5%
Green 734 1.5%

Turnout: 64.9%

It may not have been a landslide electoral victory on the scale of Clacton, but UKIP’s electoral bandwagon continues to roll on towards the general election in May 2015. We will also see the mainstream parties bend even further towards UKIP’s racist agenda.

The byelection result is a disaster for the Tories. Over the last four weeks Tory Central Office threw everything at Rochester in order to win. Cameron visited the constituency five times and ministers and MPs visited the constituency every day. Over 1,000 Conservative activists were bussed in.

The Tories will now fear that more MPs will defect. The new UKIP MP Mark Reckless claims he is in talks with two other Tory MPs. And again UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage hinted last night that another Tory was leaving.


It was not a good night for Labour. Rochester ought to have been a hotly contested seat for the party, but instead it came a poor third.

Claims that boundary changes meant that it was no longer a seat Labour could win do not hold water. Labour needed a 10% swing on its 2010 vote to win the seat. Rochester is the kind of seat Labour must take if it is going to win the 2015 general election.

A second concern for Labour is the fact that there was also a significant switching of Labour voters to UKIP. As we noted ahead of the election, an Ashcroft poll conducted just a week before the election found that 40% of those who voted Labour in 2010 in Rochester were now backing UKIP. For comparison, 44% of 2010 Tory voters have followed Mark Reckless to UKIP.

Once again the Lib Dem vote has collapsed. To put this perspective, the Lib Dems actually broke the all-time record low vote for a main party in any Westminster election.

Encouragingly the Greens won 4% of the vote, beating the Lib Dems into fourth place.

The Rochester and Strood byelection is further evidence that centre politics in Britain is in decline. On the right of British politics there is only one party and one beneficiary – UKIP.

It is not as straightforward for the left. There are a myriad of different choices: the Greens, Respect, TUSC, Left Unity and a number of alternatives in Scotland. That leaves the left electoral challenge divided and therefore weaker.

The challenge we face is helping to create a credible political and electoral opposition to UKIP’s racism and anti-working class policies. We also need to build Stand Up to UKIP into a campaign that can drive the far right racist populist UKIP back into the gutter.



  1. Paul grist said:

    I’m not completely comfortable with your comments that the tweets represented ‘snoppery’. They may have done. But for many England flags draped over domestic dwellings is intimidating. Given what that flag represents for many; imperialism, brutality and murder, it is not snoppery to be uneasy about it. I know that the symbolic intent of flags is ambitious in relation to those who choose to fly them. But I also know from personal experience that some people find them oppressive for good reason, and have to live with the constant potential threat they represent day in day out.

    In what sense is commenting on the underlying potential manace of the situation ‘snobbery’?

    21 November 2014 at 11:56pm
  2. Paul grist said:

    Ok. Snobbery not snoppery. Ambiguous not ambitious. But spelling mistakes to one side. She may be an anti working class snobb, but the tweet wasn’t in itself or in the context of the election.

    22 November 2014 at 12:18am
  3. martin said:

    Thanks for your comments Paul.

    Firstly I do believe the tweet was in context of the by-election, it was posted on the day of the by-election and the photo was of a house from Rochester.

    Emily Thornberry’s picture was of a terraced house, decked in St Georges flags with a white van parked outside. I think the inference is clear – this is a typical Rochester resident – lumpen, racist and a white van driver. Don’t forget Labour had written off this by-election weeks before election day, even though it was a Labour seat up until 2010.

    Like I said in the article, I don’t think it was a resignation matter, but I do think it was dismissive and crude and it was an acceptance of the stereotype of white working class people and comes across to many including me as snobbish.

    The biggest danger now for the working class and anti-racists is the fact that the Labour Party leadership are going to pander even further to UKIP’s racist agenda. I was horrified to read today that Ed Miliband’s says that he feels a sense of “respect” whenever he saw a white van or a house draped in St George’s flag. Respect – no, write off – no attempt to win to the Labour and anti racist cause – yes.

    But as you say Paul, the fact is the EDL and the BNP use the St George’s flag as a way of intimidating ethnic minorities and Dan Ware, the house who Thornberry tweeted admitted, “I will continue to fly the flags – I don’t care who it pisses off. I know there are a lot of ethnic minorities that don’t like it”.

    Lastly I’m not saying you believe this, but I worry that many anti-racists are rubbishing the people of Clacton and Rochester because they have UKIP MPs. In the past we never wrote off the people of Isle of Dogs, Stoke, Burnley etc because they had BNP councillors. We understood that many people in those areas vehemently opposed the BNP and we campaigned to win over those who had voted BNP.

    22 November 2014 at 1:37pm
  4. Mark Krantz said:

    Miliband rushed to show ‘respect’ for the white van man and his union flags as a way of communicating his ‘one nation’ Labour political vision. He supports ‘working people’ including hard working bankers and the self employed along with their prejudices – he does not support the ‘working class’ and their collective organisation that fight back. Miliband let it be known that ‘no one had ever seen him so angry’ before! I agree Miliband has shot himself in the foot. But I fear Miliband believe his shot was bang on target..

    22 November 2014 at 3:56pm

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