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What can we learn from the by-elections in Witney and Batley and Spen?

witney-by-electionIs the new normal the same as the old normal? As previously argued, the 2012 Corby by-election called so former Tory MP Louise Mensch could spend more time trolling 17 year olds on Twitter was the last political contest in England and Wales where UKIP wasn’t a factor. For every parliamentary by-election after, they were. They had become the go-to protest regardless of who was holding the seat, and chalked up seconds in each. That remained the case in this Parliament until Thursday.

Standing aside in Batley and Spen like the other parties, Witney was the contest to prove their flush isn’t entirely busted. Instead their slice of the vote fell by more than half, were beaten by the Greens, and the deposit forfeit. Please be patient while my crocodile cries me a river. Instead, the LibDems surged past Labour and grabbed the coveted second place slot. Dave’s majority fell by 15 points, but with another 15 separating the newly anointed Robert Courts from the yellow party I don’t think he’ll be getting too twitchy about the size of his majority. Still, could ongoing political instability now manifest itself as an apparent return to how things used to be before the purples pooped the party?

There are a couple of emergent trends that say … possibly. We know UKIP’s all over bar the shouting, but their failure cannot explain, in this instance, an insurgent LibDem vote in a super safe Tory seat. The LibDems have effectively acquired a second wind since the referendum. Building on creditable local council by-election performances over the last year, these last four months see them up 19 seats, and they’re taking seats from everyone though, it has to be said, mainly the Tories. There could be a couple of things going on. Firstly, as the die hard remainer party they might be attracting some who are wedded to the European Union and don’t presently find Labour attractive for all the usual reasons. But more important is Theresa May’s authoritarianism, Wrexitism, and anti-immigrant posturing. Dave was awful, but he could occasionally affect the pose of a liberal Tory well. Say what you like about the man, but he was no racist and didn’t play fast and loose with immigration in the same way May is doing. Well, that has consequences, and so for a chunk of Tory support the LibDems are a fair option. Not that May is entirely bothered seeing as she’s cultivating the kipper and non-Labour voting sections of the working class to the exclusion of all else. If this dynamic persists, it could well mean the LibDems might take back the seats grabbed by the Tories. What will happen in Richmond Park should Zac Goldsmith resign over Heathrow is set to be interesting.

Turning to Batley and Spen, the by-election we should never have had to have, there was never any question of Tracy Brabin not holding the seat for Labour. With the other main parties standing aside, our vote share increased by almost 43 points and none of her opponents – the flotsam and jetsam of a shattered far right – went home with their deposits. The by-election, however, comes with a warning. Between them the English Democrats, BNP, Liberty GB, and NF pulled together 8.9% of the vote. Ten per cent if you include the idiotic ‘Anti-Corbyn’ standing under ‘English Independence’. Their collective vote may well have been swelled by the absence of any other party, but the fact that one in ten was prepared to vote for a racist after their previous MP was murdered by a member of the far right is deeply, deeply troubling. If UKIP are going to disappear up their own backsides, well, the Liberal Democrats might not be the only ones to acquire newly-found support.


  1. Barry Hearth says:

    It’s far too early to even attempt to predict what one by election means, come back when we’ve had 10/12.
    All I can say is that if I Weren’t a member of the Labour party, I could have been tempted to vote tactically, and that I’m guessing, is what many in Witney did do.

  2. Tony says:

    The Conservatives benefitted, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats, were hit by a ‘perfect storm’ in 2015.

    What it does show is that Labour should not panic about that result. Instead, it should look at the errors that were made and seek to avoid them.

    I strongly recommend Tim Ross’ book “Why the Tories won”. It explains the 2015 result very well and every Labour Party activist should read it and act upon it!

  3. James Martin says:

    Yes, the nearly 10% vote for fascists in Yorkshire was very worrying and I didn’t share the glee of some about lost deposits etc. The fact is if UKIP completely splinter (entirely possible) then with the Tories under May currently trying to be seen as the party of the ‘center’ that leaves a very large space on the right that a renewed far right threat (like the BNP in the 90s) could fill, and what is happening across Europe with the new rise of the far right would potentially be replicated here so we can’t be complacent.

    In the meantime I think the Lib-Dims do pose a threat, although an indirect one. With the Tories now far more united again around a Brexit position (regardless of where certain MP’s and cabinet ministers were before the referendum), the Lib Dims are clearly trying to gain support from anti-Brexit voters (although this will largely be from the middle classes and students only of course). The reason why that is an indirect threa though t is that it is likely to increase the demands from the ‘moderate’ wing of the PLP for parliament to have a vote on Brexit and therefore to be seen as the ‘real’ anti-Brexit party rather than the Lib-Dims (and the SNP in Scotland), and that then poses a serious risk in working class areas like mine in the NW which fairly solidly voted to leave the EU (as I did myself). And even if we manage to push the parliament vote nonsense back (as what on earth do these eejit MP’s really believe will happen to them if they ever did vote to overturn the public’s referendum result?), it still creates a confusing message and position that the PLP appear unable or unwilling to resolve themselves.

  4. John P Reid says:

    The fact the Tories and libdems didn’t stand, was because the alleged killer was mentally ill
    In the 1980’s the UDA wanted to kill Tony Banks MP I wonder. If they had killed him,,and there was a by election,would the Tories or Libdems stood then,baring in mind the Labour party put candidates up against the Tories when the IRA killed Eiry Neave, Ian Gow and after the Brighton bomb,

    1. James Martin says:

      Except the killer of Jo Cox was and is not mentally ill, he is just a fascist. I am sick and tired of people with mental illnesses being smeared every time people try and excuse political crimes like this and those of Islamic clerical-fascists who carry out terrorist attacks as examples of ‘mental illness’, in fact the ‘mental illness’ smear seems to be the default reaction to any terrorist attack these days.

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      Fact: The murderer of Jo Cox was a nazi. No doubt about who he was, what he did and why he did it.

  5. Craig Stephen says:

    More importantly than the 10% for the far-right, was the 86% vote for a democrat and, I hope, a democratic socialist. There was a very low turnout in the Yorkshire seat which tends to help the thugs with rosettes.
    Concerningly, the slight drop in the Labour and Green vote in Oxon shows inroads aren’t being made in the shires.

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