UKIP targets #3: Castle Point

by Jackie_South on July 21, 2013

CastlePoint iconOur third post in our series looking at constituencies where UKIP could win based on May’s county council results takes us to south Essex.

The May 2013 county council results showed strong support for UKIP along the east coast, with them topping the poll in three parliamentary seats from The Wash to the Thames and a good second in a number of others. Of those three, we have already written on Boston & Skegness and Great Yarmouth. The third is Castle Point in Essex.

The Conservatives saw heavy losses in Essex in May, although not quite enough to rob them of control: they lost 30% of their county councillors, falling from 60 to 42 on the 75 member council. 8 of the 18 seats lost went to UKIP, bringing them up to 9 members in total. Two of those victories were in Castle Point.

You might not know where Castle Point is: this south Essex constituency is co-terminus with the borough of the same name, a creation of the 1972 local government reorganisation that had a penchant for creating obscure names: Babergh, Three Rivers, Dacorum and Langbaurgh for example.

Castle Point might have been better named Canvey and Benfleet, after the two districts merged in its creation, to give people a better idea of where it is. The name Castle Point is meant to reflect this using the principle landmarks from both: the ‘castle’ is Hadleigh Castle on the ‘Benfleet’ mainland, the ‘point’ is Canvey Point. But given the number of castles and points around the British Isles, it is hardly a helpful name in locating the borough.

The chart below shows the tally of votes for each party across the five electoral divisions in the borough and constituency in May. The third-placed CIIP is the  Canvey Island Independent Party. UKIP narrowly beat the Conservatives’ total vote, with each party winning two seats. The fifth was taken by the Canvey Island Independent Party.

CastlePoint 2013 chart

The constituency

Castle Point sits in the centre of the south Essex conurbation that stretches from Basildon to Southend. This is white, blue collar territory: land of the C2s.

The mainland section stretches along the A13, taking in two of the towns name-checked in Billy Bragg‘s A13 Trunk Road to the Sea: Thundersley and Hadleigh. Benfleet itself is more properly called South Benfleet (there is a North Benfleet, but it lies outside the borough).

South Benfleet is the largest of the towns, covering the area between the A13 and the creek separating Canvey Island from the mainland, built around a church established to celebrate King Alfred’s victory over the Vikings there. The borough’s only railway station, Benfleet, lies near the creek (Hadleigh Ray).

Suburban Thundersley to the north of the A13 stretches to the borough boundary along southern Essex’s main arterial road, the A127, and has the distinction of having the highest proportion of owner-occupiers of any town in England. Greeves Motorcycles used to be built there until they went bust in the 1970s. To the east of Thurdersley lies the village of Daws Heath, surrounded by the heath of the same name.

South of the heath is Hadleigh, home of the ruined Hadleigh Castle and its surrounding park – used in the Olympics for mountain biking. Hadleigh is also home to an extensive Salvation Army colony established by General Booth in the 1890′s.

The largest town in the borough though is Canvey Island, birthplace of the Thames Delta sound of Dr Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods: flat lands only just above sea level ringed by sea walls and with a fading seafront facing on to the Thames Estuary, including Ove Arup’s only building, the iconic 1930s’ modernist Labworth Cafe. At the west of the island lie the island’s petrochemical industry along Holehaven Creek at Canvey Wick.

All the mainland seats on Castle Point council are currently held by the Conservatives and have been since 2003, although Labour did have some success before then, particularly around Thundersley. Labour used to do well on Canvey Island, and in indeed, Labour ran the council between 1995 and 2003. But in 2003, Labour was reduced to just 2 Canvey seats on the 41 member council in a Conservative landslide.

Since then, things have got worse for both parties on the council: Labour lost its remaining seats in 2007 to the new Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP), whilst the Conservatives have since lost 13 seats to the CIIP.

That brings us to the May results. Beforehand, CIIP held the Canvey Island East division on Essex county council whilst the Conservatives held the other four seats in the borough. In 2013, UKIP won both South Benfleet and Thundersley. UKIP’s success though was blighted by their Canvey Island East result: their losing candidate there was the sitting councillor who had been elected under the CIIP banner in 2009.

The map below shows the winning party in each division.

CastlePoint map

History

Castle Point was created in 1983 and was held by the Conservatives until Labour won there in its 1997 landslide. The Conservatives won it back in 2001, and have held it since.

But, as the chart below shows, this is not quite the full story. Before 1997, the Conservative vote did not fall below 55%, but since then they have not managed to hit 50%. Whilst Labour’s vote has plummeted from 20,605 in 1997 to a paltry 6,609 in 2010, it does not appear that the constituency has fully fallen back in love with the Tories.

CastlePoint 83-10

Part of the story in 2010 is down to rightwing Eurosceptic Bob Spink. Spink was the Conservative MP from 1992 to 1997, following the retirement of the previous MP, Father of the House Bernard Braine. Spink regained the seat in 2001, but left the Conservatives in 2008, initially sitting for UKIP before falling out with them as well. He stood as the Independent Save Our Green Belt candidate in 2010, losing to the Conservative A-lister Rebecca Harris but still coming second with a credible 12,174 votes (27%).

UKIP have not done brilliantly here before, probably due to Spink’s extreme euroscepticism (he ran an advert in the local paper in 2005 with the line “What bit of ‘send them back’ don’t you understand Mr Blair?”). UKIP’s best result was 7.5% of the vote in 2005. They did not stand in 2010 to avoid splitting Spink’s vote.

Although the Liberal Democrats took 25% of the vote in 1983, their best result since 1992 was just over 10% in 2005. This is not a seat where they ever really counted and they are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.

How the parties fared this time

Comparing the results for the parties, UKIP won both their two seats by a margin of around 6% of the vote. The Conservatives held Hadleigh with an 11% lead over UKIP and Canvey Island East by 8% over CIIP. CIIP were 16% ahead of their nearest rivals, UKIP, in Canvey Island East.

CastlePoint margins

Just looking at the relative positions of the Conservatives and UKIP, the latter were ahead in three of the five districts. Despite not winning in Canvey Island East, this is where their largest lead over the Conservatives was – 13%. The Conservatives had a similar lead over UKIP in Canvey Island West.

CastlePoint UKIP-ConCanvey Island West was the worst result for UKIP: 24% compared to 42% in South Benfleet.

CastlePoint UKIP map

The Conservatives had a greater divergence between their best and worst results: 45% in Hadleigh but only 16% in Canvey Island East.

CastlePoint Con map

Labour did not exceed 20% in any district, hitting 19% in both South Benfleet and Thundersley. The emergence of the CIIP means that their worst results were in the areas that they used to be strongest: on Canvey. They secured only 8% in the west seat and 9% in the east. This suggests that disaffected Labour voters there are bow backing the CIIP.

CastlePoint Lab map

That brings us to the strength of the independents, principally the CIIP (there was also an independent candidate in Thundersley who won 5% of the vote there). The CIIP took 44% of the vote in Canvey Island East and 29% in Canvey Island West.
CastlePoint Ind map

Election prospects

Given Rebecca Harris’ lead of 17% in 2010 over Spink and the closeness of this May’s figures, the Conservatives must start out ahead in this contest.

Turnout in May was 28.5% compared to 66.9% in 2010. That means that 26,000 voters from the general election did not vote this time around. That is more votes than any party has secured in the constituency since 1992.

The chart below compares the 2010 and 2013 totals for each party.

CastlePoint 1013 comparison

That said, the Conservatives’ inability to obtain a majority of the vote in the last four general elections tells us that they are not invincible here. So too does the strong independent spirit on Canvey Island. The UKIP vote plus the CIIP vote in May came to 48.2%.

If UKIP could put forward a candidate that could appeal to the ex-Labour working class vote on Canvey Island that now goes to CIIP in local elections, they could have a chance at the next election.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt March 4, 2014 at 3:26 am

Castle Point sounds like a Chrysler factory…

Reply

Matt March 4, 2014 at 3:30 am

And a serious one. This:

>Turnout in May was 28.5% compared to 66.9% in 2010. That means that 26,000 voters from the general election did not vote this time around.

assumes that it was the same people voting and not voting in both elections.

Is this true?

Thank you for the piece.

Reply

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