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Sunday, 24 May 2015

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UKIP target Hexham seat

THE UK Independence Party will target Hexham in next year’s General Election after its stunning success in last week’s European elections.

Ballot Box

UKIP finished well ahead of the Tories in Northumberland in last Thursday’s poll, and many voters feel that sitting Tory MP Guy Opperman may have a tough fight on his hands to keep the seat he won four years ago.

And while the Conservatives are putting a brave face on things, the shattering defeat of their number one candidate Martin Callanan – leader of the Tory group in the European Parliament with 15 years in Brussels – has set alarm bells ringing.

UKIP were cock-a-hoop after finishing only a whisker behind Labour, in Northumberland, finishing with 27.4 per cent of the vote, compared with Labour’s 27.7.

The Tories managed only 25.4 per cent – and that means that the Hexham seat could now be regarded as a marginal.

UKIP’s business liaison officer in Hexham, well known local financial consultant John Nelson, said yesterday: “The polling we have done shows we are running neck and neck with the Tories in Hexham, and we are feeling very, very confident.

“We came from nowhere to unseat a long established Tory in Brussels, and we can do the same here.”

The selection process for a UKIP candidate for Hexham should be complete in the next few weeks, but Mr Nelson said voters could be assured it would be a local person.

He said: “Our nominee will come home to the Hexham constituency when Parliament is in recess, not have a second home here.

“We will not be dumping someone on Hexham who has failed elsewhere.”

Mr Opperman acknowledged it had been tough night for the Tories on Sunday when votes were counted.

But he added: “The only consolation to the Euro result locally was that in Northumberland, the Conservative vote actually increased on the Conservatives’ high watermark of 2009 – in both real terms and percentage terms.”

The European elections saw Hexham’s Jude Kirton-Darling elected for Labour, along with Paul Brannen, no stranger to the Tynedale electorate after coming second for Labour against then Hexham Tory MP Peter Atkinson in the 2001 General Election.

Taking the third seat for the UK Independence Party was Jonathan Arnott, leaving Mr Callanan out in the cold.

Sunday was a bad day for the Liberal Democrats, whose lead candidate, Corbridge’s Angelika Dorothea Schneider, finished a distant fourth in the poles.

This had led to calls from party members for the resignation of party leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Among those who have signed an online petition calling for his head is Riding Mill’s Philip Latham, a former member of Tynedale Council who was the Lib Dem candidate for Hexham in the 2001 General Election.

Labour not only topped the poll in the North-East as a whole, but in Northumberland.

Although Jude Kirton- Darling grew up in Middlesbrough, and is passionate about the town, her family has lived in Hexham for the past 10 years.

She moved to Hexham about a year ago.