County Times Comment: A week ago, some Tory grandees were referring to UKIP as ‘clowns’ - but they weren’t laughing at them on Friday morning.
After UKIP took some 26 per cent of the popular vote in the seven councils declared overnight - West Sussex will be counted later today - the tone of the Conservative message had changed significantly.
Grant Shapps, the Tory party chairman, speaking at 7am, said UKIP voters - when he could bring himself to utter the opposition party’s name - were simply ‘impatient for change’ on restoring the economy, cutting the deficit further, reducing welfare spending, supporting hard-working families, and curbing immigration, all of which was central to the Coalition’s agenda.
“That is a loud and clear message. We get it. We heard you,” Mr Shapps said.
But based on the many comments this newspaper has received in recent weeks largely from disaffected life-long Conservative voters, Mr Shapps doesn’t get it yet.
In West Sussex, while many voters will share Mr Shapps’ policy aspirations, the discontent has been more deep-rooted.
The real concern has been about values; and unless the Conservatives understand that they will never make progress.
That’s why last minute hints by David Cameron on legislation to commit a future Government to a referendum on EU failed to dent the UKIP bandwagon.
One Tory businessman who lives in the Billingshurst area put it like this to the County Times: “I’m fed up with the three main parties pontificating on whatever some focus group or another has told them - whether they believe in it or not.
“I want a party that believes in Britain. That has traditional family values at its heart. That doesn’t trash everything that made this country great. That gets us out of the clutches of the corrupt EU, reclaiming our borders, instituting immigration controls on the lines of Australia, reinstating grammar schools, defending true Christian teaching especially on marriage, and fighting for British workers. These are my values. They used to be Tory ones. Now I can only find them in UKIP.
“I am going to vote UKIP not out of protest but out of choice.”
His view will not be representative of all Conservative voters.
The Tories are expected to comfortably retain overall control of West Sussex County Council - driven not least by a strong local performance in council cost control, a three-year freeze in council tax and strong and decisive action following last year’s floods. We congratulate council leader Louise Goldsmith on her strong line.
Labour may also make gains around Crawley while they and the Lib Dems will be helped by outrage over cuts to social care which manifested itself in the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign.
How did you vote? And why? Leave your comments below.
The full West Sussex County Council election results will be published on this website as soon as they are announced with full local reaction.