Friday, 21 October 2016

A tale of two by-elections

In case you have not heard, the result for the Witney by-election was as follows:

Emilia Arno, One Love Party, 44 (0.1%)

Kendrick 'Dickie' Bird, UKIP, 1,354 (3.5%, -5.7%)

David Bishop, Bus-Pass Elvis Party, 61 (0.2%)

Robert Courts, Conservative, 17,313 (45.0%, -15.2%)

Duncan Enright, Labour, 5,765 (15.0%, -2.2%)

Mad Hatter, Monster Raving Loony Party, 129 (0.3%)

Lord Toby Jug, Eccentric Party of Great Britain, 59 (0.2%)

Adam Knight, Independent, 27 (0.1%)*

Elizabeth 'Liz' Leffman, Liberal Democrats, 11,611 (30.2%, +23.4%)

Winston McKenzie, English Democrats, 52 (0.1%)

Helen Salisbury, National Health Action Party, 433 (1.1%, +0.0%)

Larry Sanders, Green Party, 1,363 (3.5%, -1.6%)

Daniel Skidmore, Independent, 151 (0.4%)

Nicholas Ward, Independent, 93 (0.3%)

As expected, Robert Courts retained the seat for the Conservatives, in spite of a strong campaign from the Liberal Democrats and also a good campaign from my Green colleagues. Interestingly, the Conservatives' vote share here (45%) is exactly what they achieved when David Cameron first won this seat in 2001, at a time when they were struggling to recover from the devastating drubbing of the 1997 Labour landslide. Turnout was a surprisingly poor 46.8%, in spite of being given far better coverage than the Batley & Spen by-election and the tense battle for online and offline coverage.

Despite starting from a poor fourth place, the Liberal Democrats reclaimed second position and managed a swing as high as 19.3% from the Conservatives-their best since their victory at the Eastleigh by-election of 1994-but it was not even within spitting distance of winning such a safely Conservative and prosperous constituency as this. Labour, despite having no illusions about any chances of winning, actually did reasonably well despite falling to third place; they feared a Liberal Democrats squeezing as much as any other candidate but their vote share only dropped to 15%, which was better than they achieved in Witney in the 2010 general election which first put David Cameron, into No. 10.

We saved our deposit in Witney last year, but sadly could not repeat this feat, again because of the Lib Dem squeeze but coming ahead of UKIP again was consolation. Even in their heyday last year, UKIP only managed 9.2% in Witney, so their poor performance is not surprising at all. The National Health Action Party's performance was rather disappointing, given that anxiety over the future of our NHS is growing over Jeremy Hunt's stubborn ineptitude especially over strikes by junior doctors. The Brexit issue proved not to be a significant factor in this by-election despite online media hype.

Of the candidates who did not stand there in 2015, only Daniel Skidmore was able to finish ahead of the Monster Raving Loony Party, and then again only narrowly. Former Conservative PPC Nicholas Ward's anti-HS2 platform made no difference, especially when the Green Party is already opposed to HS2( Perennial candidate Winston McKenzie achieved his worst ever performance in a parliamentary election/by-election on the English Democrats' behalf, finishing even behind ex-OMRLP frontman Lord Toby Jug.
The wooden spoon award for the Witney by-election, however, is awarded to Emilia Arno of the anti-air pollution One Love Party, achieving just 44 votes. (Adam Knight actually polled an even lower total of 27, but because he stopped campaigning halfway and endorsed Liz Leffman, he is considered to have unofficially withdrawn. Any candidate who is later found to be ineligible for election or who withdraws is disqualified from receiving a wooden spoon award)

Meanwhile in Batley & Spen....

Corby Anti, By-Election Protest, 241 (1.2%)
Tracy Brabin, Labour, 17,506 (85.8%, +42.6%)
Jack Buckby, Liberty GB, 220 (1.1%)
Richard Edmonds, National Front, 87 (0.4%)
David Furness, BNP, 548 (2.7%)
Therese Hirst, English Democrats, 969 (4.8%)
Waqas Ali Khan, Independent, 118 (0.6%)
Garry Kitchin, Independent, 517 (2.5%)
Ankit Love, One Love Party, 34 (0.2%)
Henry Mayhew, Independent, 153 (0.8%).

This was of course the by-election caused by the murder of Jo Cox, and consequently Labour was the only major party to contest this by-election, as they were defending the seat. Their margin of victory was even bigger than Haltemprice & Howden's (when David Davis stood for re-election on civil liberties issues) at 81%, achieved on a very low turnout of 25.8%. For the first time in England in any parliamentary election or by-election since 1979 (in Liverpool Scotland Exchange, which was later merged with Liverpool Toxteth to form the present-day Liverpool Riverside), all opposing candidates lost their deposits with the English Democrats' Therese Hirst coming closest to the 5% mark. Surprisingly, none of the racist right candidates finished last, the wooden spoon award instead going to Ankit Love, who continues his run of terrible performances. Former Coronation Street actress Tracy Brabin may have convincingly held Batley & Spen for Labour, but this seat is likely to be broken apart in the next round of boundary changes and therefore her time in Parliament could easily be cut short.

There were also as many as 12 local by-elections that day; here are the results of those with Green Party candidates:

Braintree DC, Bumpstead: Conservative 350 (64.1%, +2.8%), UKIP 80 (15.5%, -4.1%), Labour 45 (8.3%, -10.3%), Liberal Democrats 40 (7.4%), Green 25 (4.2%).

Braintree DC, Witham North: Lab 339 (37.5%, +6.1%), Con 308 (34.0%, -4.8%), Green 227 (25.1%, +4.7%), Lib Dem 31 (3.4%, -5.9%)

Kettering BC, Rothwell: Con 700 (48.3%, +10.6%), Lab 498 (34.4%, -6.7%), UKIP 108 (7.5%, -8.5%), Green 75 (5.2%, +0.1%)

Medway UA, Strood South: Con 724 (38.4%, +3.4%), Lab 521 (27.7%, +3.5%), UKIP 480 (25.5%, -13.1%), Green 74 (3.9%), Lib Dem 62 (3.3%), English Democrats 23 (1.2%).

St Albans BC, Clarence: Lib Dem 916 (57.0%, +6.1%), Con 388 (24.1%, +3.0%), Lab 193 (12.0%, -5.2%), Green 98 (6.1%, -3.7%), UKIP 16 (0.8%)

Weymouth & Portland BC, Wey Valley: Con 475 (62.2%, +0.4%), Lib Dem 118 (15.5%), Lab 96 (12.6%, -9.8%), Green 74 (9.7%, -6.1%)

If anything, UKIP's woes were even worse when it came to local by-elections that day, by slipping to third in a seat they were defending and polling less than 1% in Clarence. Not only is it in flux due to needing to elect a new leader, but its main raison d'etre has ceased to exist since Britain is firmly on track for exiting the EU despite not having formally done so yet. By comparison, we have been holding up better although it was Labour, not us, who won the by-election in Witham North despite dissatisfaction with the Conservatives in Braintree. Labour's loss in Rothwell happened because their deceased councillor, Alan Mills, was well-respected in the town and thus was able to be elected in an otherwise reliably Conservative satellite town of Kettering.

The two by-election declarations happened on the same morning that marks the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan coal disaster, where 116 children and 28 adults died when a coal tip collapsed due to negligence by the National Coal Board. A memorial garden stands on the school those people stood in at the time of the disaster. I hope those of you reading my blog who stayed up to watch live coverage of each by-election took the time to hear the stories of their surviving relatives.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate your informative blogs Alan. Probably one of the best write ups on Thursday I've read. - As someone who campaigned for Liz Leffman up north (from here) in Witney it was surprising that Labour's rather turbulant summer has largely uneffective the loyal core vote. - you mention that the Constituency is very affluent on a national scale but what people seem to forget and the media especially that in Witney as in Haslemere (SW Surrey) Jeremy Hunt's constituency that there are pockets of service workers, part time workers, retired, disabled and not working who really struggle - and that being poorer in an affluent area where your food choice is more likely to be Waitrose, Farmers Markets and more expensive independent shops rather than budget chains, traditional markets (like small Midlands towns) and smaller shops with lower overheads as in former industrial areas. - add to that rural bus fares and petrol charges and it adds up. - Duncan Enright seemed to be an extremly popular candidate when canvassing the shared housing, modest rental properties and elderly housing developments around Witney - something that took our group from Newton Abbot Constituency Lib Dems to surprise. Whilst many warmed to Liz Leffman most were honest that they would vote for Duncan as he's a man who gets things done