Friday, October 10, 2014

Ukip!

The headline results of last night's bye elections aren't, in themselves, terrifically newsworthy. Douglas Carswell wins in Clacton, and Labour win in Heywood and Middleton. The details underneath are where things get more interesting. OK, so Clacton may not be a representative result: there was a strong personal brand for Douglas Carswell which will have distorted the result. Even so, to win 60% of the vote in a bye election is impressive.

But a big Ukip victory in Clacton was pretty much priced in ever since Carswell announced his defection. The second bye election, in the old Labour heartlands of Heywood and Middleton is a more interesting result. Let's just quickly look at what Labour's share of the vote there has been recently:

1992: 52.3%
1997: 57.7%
2001: 57.7%
2005: 49.8%
2010: 40.1%
2014: 40.9%

Labour's official line on this bye election has been that they have marginally increased their share of the vote and it was only because Tory and Lib Dem votes collapsed that Ukip got so close. Well, this is true as far as it goes. The problem is it appears to have slipped peoples' mind that 2010 was an historically bad result for the Labour party. Led by electoral kryptonite, the economy in pieces, the party in a shambles - doing basically as well as in 2010 is not an achievement to be proud of.

If Labour, as the main party of opposition less than a year before the General Election, aren't able to sweep up anti-Government votes in a bye election, what does this say for their prospects in 2015? For that matter, what does it say that they are winning 11% of the vote in Clacton - a seat where they won 40% in 2005? The picture may become a bit clearer after Rochester and Strood, but it's starting to look like Ukip are going to be the key to what happens in 2015, even if they only win a bare handful of seats.

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