UKIP loses majority on Thanet Council after 5th councilor quits

Anti-UKIP protestors gather outside the party's branch in Margate, Kent. May 4, 2015. © Tom Mellors / RT
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has lost its majority on Thanet Council, the first and only local authority to be controlled by the party and the region where leader Nigel Farage made his unsuccessful bid for MP in the general election.

Councilor Jeff Elenor quit UKIP on Tuesday to join four other defectors in a newly-formed party, the Democratic Independent Group.

The five UKIP councilors left the party over the direction council leader Chris Well had taken on the mothballed Manston Airport. UKIP made much of its pledge to reopen the airport during its May election campaign.

Former Green Councilor Ian Driver told RT that disagreements over Manston Airport could spell the end of UKIP’s control of Thanet Council.

The local split mirrors ongoing rows within UKIP’s national ranks, where Nigel Farage has clashed with the party’s only MP Douglas Carswell over which campaign to back for Britain to leave the EU.

Elenor, who joined UKIP in 2008, said he was concerned by the council’s inaction on the compulsory purchase of the airport.

I was concerned by the lack of action with the [compulsory purchase order], but it was not an easy decision to make. I have been with the party for a long time but the issue of the airport became so important,” he said.

It was important to behave honorably to the people who elected me.

The councilor cited local Conservative MP Richard Gale’s intervention as a contributing factor in his decision to leave UKIP.

In an open letter sent to the council leader Chris Wells on Monday, Gale slammed the council’s delays regarding the airport.

Your council was elected on a promise that I for one have to believe that you, personally, have no intention of honoring although other members and past members of your party wish to do so,” he wrote.

My support for your leadership in respect of Manston Airport is therefore formally withdrawn.

US firm RiverOak is seeking to partner with Thanet Council to buy and run the airport, but is waiting for the local authority to issue a compulsory purchase order [CPO] on the site’s current owners.

Former Thanet District Councilor Ian Driver told RT that UKIP councilors are disillusioned by the party’s approach to Manston Airport.

Just like Labour and the Tories, [UKIP] were making misleading promises and now that they’ve taken power and seem unable or unwilling to do anything about Manston. A lot of the people who joined the party because of Manston and stood as councilors are now becoming very, very disillusioned and disappointed in UKIP.”

Driver predicts the ongoing division within UKIP will soon put the council back in Tory hands.

I would think in the next few weeks, what remains of UKIP will probably announce that it’s breaking off negotiations with RiverOak, and that may see even more members quitting the party and becoming independents, or even joining the Conservatives.

So you could well see the Conservatives back in control at Thanet Council fairly soon … I definitely think the Conservatives will be back.”