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Comment: UKIP aiming to become credible contender for office
The UK Independence Party’s announcement that it will be standing in the mayoral elections in May signified its growing presence in Watford.
This week, the party unveiled IT businessman Phil Cox as the candidate who will make the party’s first challenge for the most powerful political prize in the town.
This comes off the back of the party making its first serious foray into Watford local elections last year when it stood candidates in five of the town’s six Hertfordshire County Council divisions.
The party failed to win a single seat in the county elections. But in Watford it won an average of 15 per cent of the vote across the town.
Also noteworthy is the fact that in four of the five divisions the party beat the Conservatives.
An average of 15 per cent is not a terrible return for the party’s first major campaign in the town, which was not the most organised or detailed affair.
Last year, UKIP had no local manifesto and only proffered a blanket set of pledges issued by its central office.
This time round there are signs that the party is becoming more organised.
Firstly, it has managed to select and unveil its mayoral candidate before one of the main parties: the Conservatives.
It has also released a set of eight pledges tailored to the Watford mayoral elections. Some of these are rather vague such as founding an "Office of Common Sense" at the town hall.
But there other more detailed pledges, such as a public review of the health campus scheme.
On top of this, the party is working on a more detailed policy manifesto as part of the campaign.
The party is making a concerted effort to become a credible contender for office and the mayoral campaign will afford it a chance to raise its profile in the town.
Yet arguably the more important contest will be the Watford Borough Council elections held on the same day.
These will give the party the chance to stand for 12 borough seats across the town.
If the party can convert its current momentum into a win in any of these wards it will be a decisive moment.
The party would move from a marginal force to one with an elected representative and a louder clearer voice in the town.
An electoral breakthrough is essential if UKIP wants to progress beyond simply being an amateurish pressure group on the town’s political fringes.
And it is hard to think of a more auspicious time for the party to make this breakthrough than these local elections, which are being held on the same day as the European elections.
Nationally, it is riding high in the polls and expects to do well in the European ballot. Meanwhile, the poor performance of the Conservatives in recent local elections means there is a space for another party on the right to make headway in the town.
UKIP has a unique opportunity to turn 2014 into pivotal year for the party in the town.
Likewise, if UKIP comes away from the May elections empty handed, this could be the year the party’s momentum peaks before fading in Watford.
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