‘We need to rid ourselves of our Liberal Democrat MP’ - UKIP not standing in North Norfolk and urge supporters to vote Conservative to unseat Norman Lamb
UKIP will not be standing a general election candidate in North Norfolk and have urged their supporters to 'lend' their votes to the Conservatives to unseat Norman Lamb.
The decision by UKIP could prove significant in the fight for the parliamentary seat, with Liberal Democrat Mr Lamb's majority having been whittled down from 11,626 in 2010 to 4,043 in 2015.
Given UKIP got 8,328 votes last time and the Conservatives 15,256 to Mr Lamb's 19,299, if those who marked the UKIP box last time follow the party's plea to vote Tory, it could signal the end for Mr Lamb in a seat he first won in 2001.
But Mr Lamb said he did not think UKIP standing aside was 'significant' and that the fact the Liberal Democrats last week won seats from UKIP in Holt and Melton Constable showed it was not a foregone conclusion that it would be the Conservatives who benefit from them not standing.
However, Michael Baker, who stood for UKIP in the constituency in 2015, said the decision was a calculated one to 'rid ourselves of our Liberal Democrat MP.'
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Mr Baker said: 'I have spent 10 years flogging myself to death to get us out of Europe and the job is nearly done. I have fought two general elections and a European election, as well as in more local elections. 'The way things are on the political scene, which is in turmoil, it was not clear to me that we would win in north Norfolk, so I decided not to stand.
'We discussed at our local constituency meeting a decided that what's important is that we get Britain out of Europe and get a good deal.
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'We didn't think we were going to win, but we need to rid ourselves of our Liberal Democrat MP. Personally, I have no problem with Norman at all and get on very well with him, but I totally disagree with his politics.
'I don't want us back in Europe and I don't want another referendum so we need to unseat him.
'It took a lot of discussion at our meeting, but we decided we would like our supporters to 'lend' their votes to the Conservative candidate James Wild.
'I think that in effect, that means we are, in fact, giving the seat to the Conservatives.'
But Mr Lamb believes otherwise. He said: 'If you look at the county council elections last week, then the UKIP vote was down to a bare minimum anyway, so I don't think them not standing is that significant.
'We had results last week where we won Holt and Melton Constable from UKIP, with massive swings to the Liberal Democrats.
'I have had Conservatives saying to me that they will vote for me, because they want me as their MP.
'Because we are now facing the certainty of a substantial Tory majority, people are considering whether they really want a one party state.
'They are asking themselves 'Do I want to lose an MP who has shown total dedication to this area?' and they are saying 'No, I don't want to lose our MP.
'I have been working on the assumption that they would not be standing and the fact we had such a swing in the county council elections means I don't think it's that significant.'
Conservative candidate Mr Wild said: 'I think what it has done is crystallize the choice. Now, it's very clear that there is only one person standing in North Norfolk who is backing Theresa May's plan.
'People have a choice between me, who wants to deliver on Brexit or Norman Lamb and others who would frustrate and block.
'I voted for Brexit, I think that is what is best for North Norfolk and I believe having a Conservative in North Norfolk would deliver more for North Norfolk.'
Mr Wild added that he would not be taking for granted that those who voted UKIP last time would switch allegiance to the Conservatives.
He said: 'I am not complacent and I'm not taking anything for granted. I am going to be knocking on as many doors as possible to get as many votes as possible. It was already competitive, but UKIP's decision has clarified the choice.'
Last time around, Labour's Denise Burke got 5,043 votes and the Green Party's Mike Macartney-Filgate got 1,488.
Labour's candidate this time is Stephen Burke. The Greens have yet to announce a candidate.
UKIP's former leader Nigel Farage insisted the party deciding not to stand candidates was not a sign it was in decline.
He said: 'No one knows where we will be in two years' time regarding Brexit and what the party wants to do is continue to fight for our vision of Britain outside the EU.
'Standing aside in some places does not mean we won't still be around in five or 10 years' time. We have achieved a hugely important victory with the referendum.
'But there will always be a need to keep the pressure on Theresa May to ensure she sees it through.'