I spent yesterday outside a Hertfordshire polling station in the rain watching voters come and go. Today’s results show how the game has changed for the UK’s major party – and I could definitely feel the change there on the ground.
Voters of all shapes and sizes passed me by, all with a smile on their face and a kind word in greeting, despite the big blue badge pinned to my chest. This is not surprising in a solid Tory ward in a solid Tory borough. However, a surprisingly large number of people entering that polling station were doing so for the first time.
These were not just fresh faced 18 year olds ready for their first taste of democracy, but people of all ages and races, looking confused, holding out their polling cards, and asking “so what do I actually need to do?” Many openly confessed to having never voted before, but suggested that “this time we’ve got good reason”. There was a clear divide between the diehard voters who arrived at the polls with their polling numbers memorised, and those who didn’t know what a polling card was.
By lunchtime the brains in HQ had worked out that one of the wards had seen more voters turn out that morning than during the whole day at the last General Election. Approximately 800 extra voters had turned out in each ward of the Borough, leaving us to ponder who these people were turning out for? It’s fairly clear now that in the main the answer was UKIP.
The question the Conservatives, but also Labour and the Lib Dems should be asking themselves today – who is voting for UKIP? There is much speculation about UKIP splitting the small ‘c’ conservative vote, but in a leafy Hertfordshire suburb at least, the UKIP voters were in fact those who had never voted before.
My day in the rain was not entirely wasted. My side won nine out of eleven wards. But something had changed and I felt a little powerless to affect it. Some of my fellow activists wrote the day off as a blip, saying the UKIP surge was just a protest vote, and that next year’s General Election will be different. Others will care little as long as the core Tory vote is not chipped away. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe safe Tory seats across the country should take a long hard look at their foolproof election strategies.
UKIP have proved themselves a force to be reckoned with, and from the mouth of a conservative voter; “The whole thing needs a major re think and new people. These safe seat Tories are portraying the typical Tory stereotype- rich, lazy, and thinking they are better than everyone else…”
Measurement and evaluation