It was smiles all round as Eastleigh Ukip launched their General Election campaign by opening a shop in the town centre.
The Ukip candidate Patricia Culligan was on hand to cut the ribbon outside the premises in the Leigh Rd precinct that formerly served as the Co-Op travel agent before falling long term vacant.
As usual the May 7 poll will be run alongside the local borough elections and the shop will serve as a campaign HQ for both Culligan and Ukip’s local election candidates Jim Saunders and Andy Moore who are standing in Eastleigh South and Eastleigh Central respectively.
Andy Moore formerly served in Eastleigh as a Lib Dem councillor before being deselected.
This led to an acrimonious split as Moore along with fellow Eastleigh area councillors Glynn Davies-Dear and Dave Broughton resigned as Lib Dems to sit as independents and subsequently lose their seats to Lib Dems.
During the 2013 By-election Davies-Dear and Andy Moore joined Ukip and after Ukip’s Diane James narrowly missed winning the constituency, Moore won the Eastleigh East division in the County elections – one of three successful Ukip candidates in Eastleigh.
Ukip were unable to build on that success in the 2014 local elections although in Jim Saunders case, in Eastleigh South, the result was very close with less then a hundred votes separating him from Lib Dem Steve Sollitt.
Previously Labour’s Pete Luffman had come even closer to winning back Eastleigh South so it’s clear this ward is highly marginal and will be bitterly contested.
Both Saunders and Moore believe the proposed housing development at Stoneham is a key concern for voters in Eastleigh and are highlighting defending Lib Dem councillor Paul Bicknell’s support for the plan as part of their campaign.
Nationally Ukip have taken advantage of the high level of shop vacancies to open High St campaign offices – a tactic which saw Market St turn into a virtual ‘no go areas’ for other parties during the Eastleigh By-election.
National support for Ukip in the opinion polls appears to have plateaued at around 15% while in Eastleigh other parties polling suggest support for Ukip has slipped locally since 2013 but Eastleigh activists have told Eastleigh News they are confident they can still attract people who would not normally vote due to disillusionment with the traditional parties.
They also say that they expect to perform better in the postal ballot this time round as they have more time to prepare.
The postal ballot was said to be key to Mike Thornton’s success in 2013.
Based on the 2013 by election results then Ukip needs a swing of around 4% to win in May.
Patricia Culligan told reporters she was ‘delighted’ that Ukip would once again have a presence in the town.
Eastleigh News asked her why she thought it was Ukip seemed to attract mainly older voters?
Culligan said that membership of their youth wing – Young Independence – was growing before adding:
“We have a whole raft of educational polices specifically designed to help young people get into the jobs market with the right education to build career without a giant debt trailing around after them for evermore”.
Culligan said when young people realised that Ukip had these kinds of policies they would feel “a lot more involved”.
Culligan also said that if elected she would be prepared to work with other parties on local issues – something she has said previously to Eastleigh News.