THE starting pistol has been fired for this year’s Local Elections campaign in South Tyneside with a UK Independence Party (UKIP) councillor pledging that none of his party’s candidates have “barmy views”.
UKIP says it now has 103 members in the borough and is geared up to fight for seats in all 18 wards, which are up for grabs on Thursday, May 22.
Candidates joined Richard Elvin, UKIP’s prospective North East MEP, in a gathering at South Shields Market Place at the weekend.
They were there to drum up votes and later went walkabout in the Cleadon and East Boldon ward.
Nationally, UKIP party leader Nigel Farage spoke out at the weekend, with a vow to rid his party of any candidates deemed “extremist, barmy or nasty”.
It came after a UKIP councillor in Henley-on-Thames claimed God punished Britain with fatal floods this winter because gay marriage is now legal.
Coun Steve Harrison, who represents the party at Fellgate and Hedworth in Jarrow, said he had confidence over the vetting of candidates locally.
He said: “UKIP has a very thorough vetting system, and wouldn’t accept anyone involved with the English Defence League or the BNP. Prospective candidates have to state any such allegiances on our application form.
“I’m confident our vetting procedure is more than adequate but, of course, nothing is fool-proof and you never know what skeletons some people choose to keep in their closet.
“We now have 15 of the 18 candidates to fight the elections in May, and we’re confident of having a full quota come May.”
He added: “A gentleman came along to the Market Place on Saturday to express an interest in fighting for the Simonside ward.
“We put up a stall about once a month in the market and it’s a chance to get out and talk to the public, give out information, DVDs and leaflets, and explain our party manifesto.
“Over the next few weeks we will be out and about in two wards a week, getting our message across on the doorstep.”
UKIP has two councillors at present, Coun Harrison and his ward colleague, Coun Linda Hemmer.
Both were originally elected as independents and the local elections offer an opportunity for UKIP to win seats through the ballot box in the borough for the first time.
The party is hoping to build on the success of Mr Elvin, who finished an impressive second to Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck in last year’s Parliamentary by-election.