The collapse of Coventry’s right, what is the future for the city’s political landscape?

Writing for the BusinessInsider one month prior to the 2017 General Election Adam Payne forecasted a potential “UKIP collapse in Coventry.” Payne’s prognosis proved to be astutely correct with UKIP’s percentage share of votes falling by over 10% in all three of Coventry’s constituencies; Coventry North East, Coventry North West and Coventry South.

To some, the collapse was inevitable. Following the 2016 EU referendum many felt that UKIP’s job had been achieved. Independence from the European Union had been set in motion. The face of UKIP and arguably the UK’s most prominent right-wing figure Nigel Farage stepped down as leader of the party in July 2016 shortly after the EU referendum after ‘achieving a political ambition’ (as per the Guardian).

Just this month the Mail reported that UKIP were losing in excess of one thousand members a month from their party. Further, Henry Bolton was elected as leader of the party in September 2017 but lasted less than five months following a vote of no confidence.

 

Questions are now being cast over how this will effect individual constituencies within the UK. City’s such as Coventry played a vital role in UKIP’s emergence and growth during the 2015 election. Further, both Coventry South and Coventry North East voted to leave the EU during the 2016 election.

What is the future for Coventry’s political landscape and where will the city’s right-wing voice emerge from?

Coventry rejects the right

Away from UKIP there has been resistance from Coventry residents regarding right-wing policies.

Last year the nationalist group Britain First chose to host their annual conference in the city. However, the conference provoked rejection from members of the city rather than support for Britain First.

The group cancelled their conference planned for Coventry due to rejection from residents and anti-fascist groups. (As per the Coventry Telegraph)

One would speculate that Coventry would have been chosen by the group due to their perviously large support for far-right groups such as UKIP in the 2015 election and their willingness to vote leave during the 2016 EU referendum.

However, it would appear that the brewing association between Coventry residents and the right that may have looked to have emerged between 2015 and 2016 is now rapidly deteriorating given the rejection of Britain First last year.

 

Further, UKIP’s drastic drop in support throughout all three of Coventry’s constituencies was severe and damning to say the least.

UKIP’s vote share in Coventry North East dropped from 14.79% to 2.89% between the 2015 and 2017 General Election. Moreover, UKIP’S vote in Coventry North West dropped from 15.63% to 3.05% while in Coventry South it dropped from 13.02% to 2.20%.

The collapse of right-wing representation in Coventry is clear. Further, perhaps the reason for the collapse is contradictorily even clearer. With the wishes being met to leave the EU, where does the future lie for right in Coventry?

The demand for right representation in Coventry

Glenn Williams is the only independent councillor currently on the Coventry City council and made no hesitations in expressing where he aligns his policies and beliefs when we met him in his council office.

“Well my heroin growing up was Maggie Thatcher, she still is. I think she is the greatest Prime Minister we’ve ever had. And, I would consider myself very much to the right. In fact, I have been described as the most right-wing councilor on the city council. I’ve always been very much to the right. For example, I believe in the death penalty.”

Williams has often struggled to have his voice as the only candidate out of a possible 54 councillors who is not either Labour or Conservative to be heard. The current Coventry City council is represented by 41 Labour seats, 13 Conservative seats and one independent seat (Williams). Williams is often excluded from certain committees and regularly has his opinions and voice suppressed or shouted down with he expresses himself in council meetings. Williams briefly eluded to this when discussing why Coventry needs more right-wing representation.

“Well it would be good to have more of a right wing view on the council. I mean, it’s a very socialist left-wing view on the council now. The Labour party in Coventry is very divided between those who are moderate Blairites and those who are sort of the Corbynistas, the Momentum. And, they’ve sort of got control of the council now and voices like mine pipe up in council meetings, and then; well if you’ve watched them you’ll see what happens.”

Defecting from the far-right

In 2015, Mark Taylor ran as the UKIP candidate for Coventry South. Taylor garnered an impressive 13.02% share of the votes taking 5,709 votes from the election. More votes than both the Liberal Democrat and Green party candidates combined in Coventry South.

However, Taylor quickly defected to the Conservative party following the election despite his impressive performance in the 2015 election as a UKIP candidate.

Ian Arthur Rogers proceded Taylor as the UKIP candidate in the 2017 election but only received 1,037 votes, 10.82% fewer of the percentage vote share that Taylor received in 2015.

Exclusively discussing his reason for defecting from the UKIP party, Taylor offered a damning verdict on his experience as UKIP candidate in Coventry.

“UKIP dominated the European elections of 2014. It attracted nearly 4 million voters in the 2015 general election, but I felt that some policy messages started to sound cold, even uncaring and I found myself disagreeing with some UKIP policy, particularly on issues such as reducing overseas aid. I wanted the party to re think some issues. It didn’t. I left.”

The cause of the collapse of Coventry’s right

For Taylor the collapse in the momentum of Coventry’s right is clear. Parties such as UKIP could not contend with the ever-growing two party system that has come to dominate British politics in the last 12 months.

“For me, the 2017 general election became a ‘choose Jezza or Theresa’ 2 party election.  UKIP’s decision not to field candidates in constituencies where other candidates (from any party) were for Brexit was a mistake and many voters I met simply dismissed UKIP as being disinterested in the issues that mattered to them (Apart from immigration and Brexit), so they simply didn’t vote for them.”

What will come next for Coventry’s political landscape?

It’s more evident than ever that the right-wing voice for voters across the UK has been demobilised and has shrunk to a significant level. What follows for city’s such as Coventry who voted to leave the EU remains to be seen. Perhaps a rise in independent candidates and groups will rise before a major party emerges again in the future in a similar fashion to the phenomenon of UKIP in the last five years.

For Taylor however it is clear that he feels more grassroots work is needed by anyone looking to garner and grasp the attention of Coventry’s now-inactive right-wing supporters.

“If you listen carefully when out campaigning, which not all candidates from political groups in Coventry go out and meet potential voters, you quickly learn that voters seek assistance on issues that matter to them, and they are certainly prepared to tell you what you should do for them. A younger generation is crying out for decent affordable housing and the expectation that they can earn a decent wage and not be consumed by debt.”

Coventry is irrevocably a city that has had an apparent and recognisable association with Britain’s political right in recent years through the EU referendum and 2015 General Election results. However, it now finds itself in a period of transition. A period of rest, perhaps. While UKIP licks its wounds after a disastrous 12 months and Brexit and UKIP supporters defect their support back to an ever-socialist Labour party, the political right in Coventry sleeps.

Whether the right will arise again in Coventry is perchance not the question that one should be speculating. Rather, how? If political waves really do come in cycles as some believe, Coventry’s right will be represented again. Independent candidates or another major right-wing UK party are likely to be the most viable options for the likes of Glenn Williams and other far-right supporters in the city but until then one can only speculate how the city’s political landscape will unfold as it moves further towards two-party representation and domination.

Billy Hodder 

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