Great Yarmouth UKIP contender Matthew Smith steps down - could leader Nigel Farage enter the fray?
06:30 26 July 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012
Nigel Farage could enter the political fray in Norfolk, as UKIP’s contender for the target seat of Great Yarmouth has stepped down.
Former prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) Matthew Smith announced last night that he had left the role to fight electoral fraud charges.
Party insiders have revealed that the coastal constituency is among UKIP’s top five target seats in the country for the next general election, after ten of 13 Great Yarmouth Borough Council seats went purple at the May local elections.
And while party leader Mr Farage has been linked to constituencies in the south east, the UKIP hotbed of Yarmouth may prove an attractive proposition.
He would be up against current Yarmouth MP and Conservative Minister for planning and housing Brandon Lewis and Labour hopeful Lara Norris.
Mr Smith, 26, was the preferred PPC, having served as local UKIP party agent and holding Gorleston St Andrews division as an independent county councillor.
But he announced that he was stepping down last night, after denying charges of electoral fraud at Norwich Crown Court in ongoing proceedings.
He wrote: “I am sad to say that I am stepping down as UKIP’s PPC for Great Yarmouth in light of the continuing court case.
“I will continue to fight this case knowing that I am innocent of all charges and it is a sad indictment that this case has taken such an unusually long time to progress.
“However I believe that I owe it to the people of Great Yarmouth to have a UKIP candidate, democratically selected by the local branch members in due course, who is free from such distractions and can give the people of Yarmouth the time and attention that this case is depriving me from doing to deliver a famous UKIP win in 2015.
“I have written to my local party chairman to this effect.”
The move poses questions about who will stand for the eurosceptic party, with leader Nigel Farage and UKIP MEP and former Daily Express journalist Patrick O’Flynn yet to firmly commit to be PPCs elsewhere.
Mr O’Flynn, who is UKIP’s economic spokesman, refused to rule himself out when approached for comment last night.
But he said: “I think it’s highly unlikely it would be me.
“It’s one of our top target seats, not only in the region but also nationwide.
“I think it’s important that the local party gets a candidate it’s happy with and that’s made the most important consideration.”
It is understood that a grassroots candidate could be favoured, with the party wary of how locals may react to a candidate parachuted in from elsewhere.
And a surge of interest in the position is expected from within UKIP’s ranks.
A UKIP spokesman said: “No decision has been made as to who the successor will be.”
The party did not hold any seats on Great Yarmouth Borough Council before May this year, when it took ten of 13 seats that went to the polls.
UKIP candidates took five of nine Norfolk County Council divisions around Great Yarmouth in May 2013.
The party is expected to consider members for the role of PPC in Great Yarmouth in the coming weeks.