Friday, 9 December 2016

A cloud flies over Sleaford & North Hykeham and other thoughts

Readers, the result of the Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election was as follows:

Victoria Ayling, UKIP, 4,426 (13.5%, -2.2%)

David Bishop, Bus-Pass Elvis Party, 55 (0.2%)

Jim Clarke, Labour, 3,363 (10.2%, -7.1%)

Paul Coyne (No Description, ex-Lincolnshire Independent), 186 (0.6%)

Caroline Johnson, Conservative, 17,570 (53.5%, -2.7%)

Marianne Overton, Lincolnshire Independents, 2,892 (8.8%, +3.6%)

Ross Pepper, Liberal Democrats, 3,606 (11.0%, +5.3%)

The Iconic Arty-Pole (real name Peter Hill), OMRLP, 200 (0.6%)

Sarah Stock, Independent, 462 (1.4%)

Mark Suffield, Independent, 74 (0.2%)

Sleaford & North Hykeham is one of the safest Conservative seats in England, and is also rural meaning potential for change is more limited than in urban or suburban constituencies. There are fewer transient voters, fewer people in more casual jobs and higher levels of owner-occupation in the majority of predominantly rural seats (for richer or for poorer) meaning that swings in them tend to be considerably lower in by-elections than urban or suburban seats. This held true in 2015, where the only significant slump was that of the Liberal Democrats where they lost more than two-thirds of their 2010 vote, and here where no increases or decreases in vote share of 10% or greater were recorded for any candidate.  The easy Conservative hold was therefore not unexpected by any means, especially with low levels of coverage being given until the count.

The 'Progressive Alliance' tactic here failed badly, since Sarah Stock, a Save Grantham Hospital campaigner who was backed by the local Green Party, failed to even save her deposit or make any difference to the result. Had she not been backed by the Green Party she would almost certainly have struggled to obtain even 1% of the vote, given that Grantham Hospital is not geographically in the constituency (some residents use it, though) and that since North Hykeham is effectively a suburb of the city of Lincoln (in fact, it will almost certainly be joined with the current constituency of Lincoln in the next round of boundary changes), North Hykeham residents can use Lincoln County Hospital instead. In fact, we would have almost certainly achieved a better result if we had stood as per usual, even with no Green Party candidates having ever stood in Sleaford & North Hykeham, since unlike in Richmond Park or Witney there is no real Liberal Democrat momentum (outside the more affluent parts of North Hykeham) here and there never has been.

Rural constituencies are the ones that will be worst affected by artificial climate change or other environmental damage, and which can benefit more from Green Party philosophy, so we Greens need to be more active in these constituencies locally and nationally, not less, especially when many Conservatives in local elections in 2015 in rural areas were opposed only by Green Party candidates, which was the case in two wards of East Hertfordshire (Great Amwell and Little Hadham) where I live.

Further evidence has come to light, from letter-writers and elsewhere, that had Zac Goldsmith been able to stand as an official Conservative candidate like David Davis in Haltemprice & Howden's by-election of 2008, he might have been able to hold it, if only narrowly, since tribal voters exist for all parties in every constituency, no matter how hard the squeezing by one or more other political parties goes on in elections. Even in the worst years for the Conservative Party, the Conservative vote in Richmond Park has never dipped below 39%. The lowest Conservative vote share in Sleaford & North Hykeham by comparison was 43.9% in 1997, and the Liberal Democrats still cobbled together 5.7% in that constituency in 2015.

Even though I do not believe in Progressive Alliances and seen evidence of them not actually working out (this one certainly did not), cross-party co-operation on some issues once people are actually elected remains important. This was demonstrated in an early morning debate about the need to properly tackle violence against women in Britain, when Michelle Thomson (Independent [ex-SNP], Edinburgh West), Mims Davies (Conservative, Eastleigh), Tracy Brabin (Labour, Batley & Spen), Seema Malhotra (Labour, Feltham & Heston) and others who I did not hear all spoke about their own direct and indirect experiences of such violence and concerns that not enough is being done to tackle it, and the fact many victims still do not see proper justice of any kind (Tracy Brabin described herself as lucky in that respect because her attacker was caught and imprisoned) due to failures in our justice system, cultural attitudes towards domestic and sexual violence, and a lack of willingness to speak out. So many rape crisis centres have been closed and a lot do not have sufficient funding, and many of these closures have come since the current Conservative-led government took office in 2010. This is an issue we must all work together to deal with, especially when family and friends also suffer as well as the victims.

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