Friday, March 04, 2011

Why the Barnsley Central by-election was bad for everyone

If you read the day's blog posts, whenever a political event takes place it turns out to have been good for everyone. Let me try to prove the opposite: that the result of the Barnsley Central by-election was bad for all three parties.

Why it was bad for the Liberal Democrats

Sixth place in a Westminster by-election is not unprecedented for the Liberal Democrats. Discussing the Barnsley result on Twitter this morning, I was reminded by Ruaraidh Dobson that we finished sixth as recently as November 2009 in the Glasgow North East by-election.

Of course, sixth place in a seat where we finished second at the last general election is a different matter. But another tweet from Meral Ece put even this into perspective. She gave the votes cast in Barnsley at the 2009 Euro elections:

Labour 12594
UKIP 9544
BNP 8543
Tories 8045
Lib Dems 4434

In the light of that, and the absence of any attempt to encourage Lib Dem workers to go to Barnsley, the by-election result is not such a surprise.

The result reveals how much we are dependent upon favourable national publicity, hard work locally or both to get a decent result. This is not an encouraging conclusion for an ambitious Liberal Democrat, but it does suggest that our poor performance in Barnsley had less to do with the Coalition than many have assumed.

Add in the unpopularity of governing parties, which we used to take as a given but was perhaps forgotten as a result of Tony Blair's long honeymoon, and the result is almost as expected.

Why it was bad for Labour

This, I will admit, is a harder case to argue, but here I plead in aid Julian Astle (to whom I shall return one day soon). He wrote on his Daily Telegraph blog:
The people of Barnsley were answering two questions when they cast their ballots yesterday. First, and most obviously, whether they like or dislike the coalition government (made up of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, two parties they didn’t support in significant numbers even when in opposition). Second, whether they like or dislike what that government is currently doing (raising their taxes and cutting their benefits and services in the name of deficit reduction). Unsurprisingly, they decided they disliked both and voted accordingly.
But, as Julian argues, it is not the voters in safe Labour seats like Barnsley that decide general elections. So it is the Labour leadership who need to
look behind their 60 per cent vote share and ask whether it really tells them anything at all about how they, rather than the government, are doing, or indeed, what the people of the United Kingdom, rather than Barnsley, are thinking.
The correct conclusion is surely that it tells them very little, but the wider Labour Party may need some convincing of this.

Why it was bad for the Conservatives

A substantial section of David Cameron's party has never warmed to his leadership and remains convinced that the Tories would have won the last election with a more right-wing programme. To them, the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats is a humiliation. In their hearts they want to restore IDS or Michael Howard as leader, pull out of Europe and resume birching people.

Such Conservatives will have had their beliefs strengthened by seeing their party finish behind UKIP at Barnsley. The whispering against David Cameron will continue, and I suspect that he may be at least as vulnerable to a party revolution as Nick Clegg.

However, it is George Osborne who is likely to benefit from such a coup rather than IDS or Michael Howard.

Why it was bad for everyone

David Aaronovitch tweeted this morning:
The significance of Barnsley isn't the Libdem result (it HAS happened before) but that voters won't punish corruption, as we once expected.
Maybe, but I suspect that the electorate has come to the conclusion that the parties are all as bad as each other. Unfair, perhaps, but there it is.

Besides, as Eric Illsley has already proved, Labour can put up a donkey in Barnsley and still win.


crewegwyn said...

I think you would have to concede it was a good result for UKIP and - very sadly - not a bad result for the BNP.

Personally I would place Oldham East & Sad in the "bad result for everyone" category, but that's another discussion.

Z said...

Not bad for the BNP? They lost half their vote to UKIP and appear to be blaming Griffin personally for it on a local blog.

Dan Falchikov said...

Well said. I have blogged similar, but (as usual) less eloquently...

Mark said...

Run that one by me again - Labour won with 60 per cent of the vote, yet somehow that's a bad result for Labour - without any specific reference to what would have been a good result for Labour?

It's hardly Ed Milliband's fault that Barnsley is a safe Labour seat is it?

As for 'look behind the 60 per cent' - I'm sure Labour will.

So how is it seriously a 'bad result' for Labour?

What would have been a 'good' result?

Unknown said...

It is a bad result for Labour. Excluding 2010 (when the extent of the candidates corruption was already known) they last got such a low vote share in 1983, so the only times when they have done this badly have been in general elections when the party was humiliated.

It is a bad result for UKIP. They had a largely clear run at this, with none of the main parties really caring about it. It is an area where they did very well in the Euro-elections, so many people had voted for them before. Furthermore they were clearly able to appeal to Liberals, Conservatives and Fascists alike. Nevertheless they only got 12.2% of the vote, nowhere near the level needed to win any seat, even under FPTP. How they expect to manage when the other parties are trying.

It was a bad result for the BNP. They lost votes in a by election.

It was a bad result for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, 'nuf said really.

It was also a bad result for the Greens. They didn't even stand and thus denied the socialist leaning voters of Barnsley any sort of choice over who to vote for, despite the fact that their extremist anti-cuts rhetoric would probably have plaid well in the constituency.

The only person (in the country?) for whom this is a good result was Tony Devoy, who more then doubled his vote share, retained his deposit and managed to out poll a national party, a rare feat for an independent and one we should applaud, even if that party was the Lib Dems. I therefore crown him the winner of the Barnsley central by election. Well done Tony.