UKIP sets out its stall in the region
Steve DownesThe UK Independence Party has two eastern region Euro-MPs but has made no inroads into Westminster politics.Steve Downes
The UK Independence Party has two eastern region Euro-MPs but has made no inroads into Westminster politics. STEVE DOWNES reports.
On the face of it, there does not seem to be any reason for the main parties to be unduly concerned about the UK Independence Party.
In the 2005 general election the party fielded candidates in all of the then 14 seats in the EDP area, but only one of them managed to attract more than 5pc of the vote.
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Support ranged from a low of 1.4pc (597 votes) for Vandra Ahlstrom in Norwich South to 5.4pc (2,723 votes) for Leonard Baynes in North-East Cambridgeshire.
But the percentages for all 15 UKIP candidates were up on those posted in 2001, suggesting growing support among electors. In four constituencies, the proportion of votes more than doubled.
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And results in the 2009 European elections, plus the Norwich North by-election, show UKIP does have a strong core of support in the region.
In the by-election Glenn Tingle got 4,068 votes, 11.9pc of the total. He finished fourth, pushing Green Party candidate Rupert Read into fifth place.
In the Euro elections, UKIP consolidated its 2004 performance by returning two eastern region MEPs on the back of 313,921 votes - 19.58pc of the total.
The party has fielded a full complement of 15 candidates for the 15 constituencies in the EDP area for the General Election on May 6.
Of those, only Ian Smith in West Suffolk and John Howlett in Bury St Edmunds stood in 2005. Glenn Tingle returns to contest Norwich North.
Stuart Agnew is one of UKIP's two eastern region MEPs. He contested Mid-Norfolk in 2001, North Norfolk in 2005 and is having a punt at the new Broadland seat this time out.
He said: 'Naturally we would like to see the first UKIP MPs take their seats in the Commons but the prime goal is to see us continue to improve our electoral performances.
'Displacing one or two of the failed traditional political parties in some seats would be a big step forward. We have been making considerable progress, not least in coming second ahead of Labour and the Lib Dems in last June's European Election, which was the most recent test of national public opinion.'
In terms of local policies, the Norfolk farmer gave responded to the EDP's Norfolk Manifesto outlining the key issues that should be addressed by local candidates:
Regional train services
'We would invest an extra �3bn a year in the UK's transport infrastructure. This is one of several pledges that can be financed through savings from leaving the EU. Our plans include expanding the rail network by reopening lines where there is a proven need and improving passenger rail franchises by demanding higher standards of customer services.'
'We would take urgent action not only to increase speeds for the whole county to bring it into line with national standards but to bring a proper service to large areas of Norfolk.'
Care of the elderly
'Britain's pensioners deserve better. We would roll existing state pensions, pensions credit and the winter fuel allowance into a flat rate, non-means tested, non-contributory and non-taxable citizens' pension worth at least �130 per week.'
'We do not subscribe to the defeatist attitude that global warming will render coastal defence irrelevant. As a short-term measure we would reinstate wooden revetments along the north-east Norfolk coast.'
Dualling the A11
'UKIP would make the A11 a priority. The only section of the main artery from London to Norwich is an obvious priority for UKIP's pledge to revitalise the road and rail networks, particularly as the majority of the legwork has been done.'
'We would make all taxpayers better off and take all minimum wage earners out of tax altogether by raising the tax threshold to �11,500. We would also combine income tax and employees' national insurance to create a flat tax at 31pc and massively simplify the taxation system.'
Education and skills
'UKIP would increase parental choice, make schools more answerable to parents, retain existing grammar schools and encourage the creation of new ones, phase out student loans and return to a student grant system. We would introduce county education boards made up of education professionals and councillors to replace local education authorities. We would abolish Ofsted and transfer its powers to school governing bodies.'
'We are committed to building more social housing and note that across the country there are 800,000 empty homes. Increasing housing supply is only one side of the equation. Reducing demand through a proper immigration policy is a major manifesto pledge.'
Some of UKIP's main policies
1. Save up to �120bn a year by leaving the EU.
2. Introduce a higher income tax threshold of �11,500.
3. Create one million jobs with public and private investment in a public works programme to provide defence equipment, nuclear power stations, flood and coastal protection, transport infrastructure and more prisons.
4. End uncontrolled mass immigration by introducing an immediate five-year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement.
5. Expel Islamic extremists and introduce a strict points-based visa system and time-limited work permits.
6. Enable voters to set policing priorities through locally elected county police boards.
7. Demand zero tolerance on crime and double prison capacity to assure this.
8. Boost the military budget by 40pc.
9. Restore free NHS dental check-ups and eye tests.
10. End support for multiculturalism and promote one shared British culture for all.