LGC research today reveals how Ukip’s local government ranks have been swelled by at least 77 councillors defecting to it from other parties.
The finding emerged as the party predicted it would be boosted by a “triple figure” number of further councillor defections.
We obtained a list of the party’s current councillors before trawling council websites and local newspaper reports to see if members had defected or been originally elected under the party banner.
Of the 357 current Ukip councillors, LGC obtained data on 323. Of the 77 defectors we uncovered, 56 were formerly Conservative, 13 Independent or from other parties, five Labour and three Liberal Democrats.
Of the defectors, 37 have subsequently fought an election as a Ukip candidate, but 35 of them have not. No data was available for the other five. Nearly all the defections occurred in the past three years.
Peter Reeve, deputy leader of the LGA Independent group and a Ukip councillor on Cambridgeshire CC, told LGC his party had recently been approached by “a lot of Labour people” as well as serving Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors.
“In the early days it was exclusively Conservatives [who defected to Ukip], but more recently we’ve had some Lib Dems and Labour members,” said Cllr Reeve.
“The pace is going to change significantly in future. There are a lot of Labour people talking to us.”
Cllr Reeve’s comments come in the wake of strong Ukip performances in parliamentary by-elections in Clacton and Heywood and Middleton last week.
He claimed a “triple figure” number of further councillors could defect if Ukip was successful in the forthcoming Rochester and Strood by-election, to be held on 20 November. It was triggered by the defection of former Conservative MP Mark Reckless to the party.
Colin Rallings, a leading psephologist based at the University of Plymouth, told LGC he expected to see Ukip perform well in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, parts of Essex and Dudley in next year’s local elections.
“The chances of Ukip winning a pretty fair proportion of [seats], though a proportion that will be much less than the share of the vote they get, is quite substantial,” Professor Rallings said.
“Even if they don’t win any or many parliamentary seats, there will be some councils [at which Ukip] will be coming pretty close to having, if not control, then at least a very significant influence. That gives them, like the Lib Dems before them, an important local government base.”
However, Gary Porter, LGA vice-chairman and its Conservative group leader, said he disagreed with Professor Rallings’ analysis. The electorate was not “up for that much Ukip,” he said.
Asked whether he was concerned about more defections from his party to Ukip, Cllr Porter said: “I’d be surprised if there were too many. The ones they normally get are the ones we’ve booted out already, or the ones that fail to get reselected.”
A spokesman for the LGA Labour group said he had no information about Labour councillors defecting to Ukip.
“Local authority campaigns really are fought by local Labour parties,” he said. “You have to look at each one individually.”
An LGA Liberal Democrat Group spokesman said he had not recently heard of any of the party’s councillors switching to Ukip.
“I’m sure if you look back there have been the odd one or two over the years, but equally we’ve had one or two ex-Ukip people coming over to us,” he said.
Cllr Reeve said the policies of Ukip-run councils would include switching from the cabinet to the committee system of governance, cutting chief executives’ pay and addressing what he described as “councils being overloaded with senior staff”.
Ukip would need to increase its councillor base from 2.7% of England’s councillors to 5% in order to form a separate group within the LGA, where it sits within the Independent group.