Two important messages from the voters that I picked up on the campaign trail

Speaker's Corner
Speaker's Corner

The political campaigning season has been running a little late this year.

Most years, we have local or general elections on the first Thursday of May but the European elections meant that polling day was pushed back to May 22.

Once the elections here were out the way, I was off to Nottinghamshire to do my bit in advance of tomorrow’s Newark parliamentary by-election as well.

This year is an ‘off year’ for local elections in Dacorum – county council elections were last year and the next borough council elections will coincide with the general election next May.

Elections to the European Parliament are curious affairs.

There is a widespread perception that the European Parliament is just a talking shop and that its proceedings are inconsequential. That is no longer true – for good or ill (and mainly the latter, in my view), the European Parliament has increasing influence on European regulations and directives.

So if you want to reform Europe, who we send to Brussels matters.

But compared to Parliament or local councils, the influence is less visible and it is not surprising that many people see a vote in European elections as a ‘free hit’, a chance to send a message.

The perception of many is that this is not election about deciding ‘who is in charge’ but about making a point.

So what about the results?

As the Gazette reported last week, UKIP topped the poll in the Eastern Region and gained a seat from the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives came second but retained three MEPs from the region, which was our target.

More locally, the Conservatives won the most votes in Dacorum, with 11,688, narrowly ahead of UKIP with 11,102.Labour polled just 5,849 – I’m not sure my colleague Mike Penning will fear a Labour revival in Hemel Hempstead after that poor showing – with the Greens beating the Liberal Democrats by 3,222 to 2,977.

UKIP clearly did well, although less well than in other parts of the region and country.

Hertfordshire is one of their weakest counties. There was no breakthrough in the county councils 12 months ago, nor did they do well in the Three Rivers District Council elections this year.

However, I think a couple of points come across from the results here and elsewhere.

First, Europe needs to be reformed. It interferes too much, has too much power and too often hinders, not helps, our economy.

Second, the public are very concerned about the levels of immigration.

I could spend the rest of this column setting out the steps we have taken as a government to control immigration, including measures to discourage the influx of Romanians and Bulgarians that some were predicting. But there is more to do.

The principal campaigning activity is canvassing – knocking on doors and asking people about their concerns and how they intend to vote.

It is a very useful way of gauging public opinion as well as finding out where our voters are, so that we can remind them to vote on the day.

When I am canvassing in South West Hertfordshire, it is a common experience to knock on the door of someone I know, or at least have met before.

However, the other day, I was a little taken aback when canvassing in Newark. I introduced myself to one gentleman and he responded: “Yes, we have met before”.

I thought this unlikely but he insisted. “We met in the House of Commons,” he said, before explaining that he was a member of the Tax Facility of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales and I had met them on a tour of the House of Commons three years ago. He proceeded to raise some of the finer points of VAT law.

He was right, too. We had met before. Small world.