With just seven months to go until the General Election, the electoral landscape has never been more unpredictable.
With just seven months to go until the General Election, the electoral landscape has never been more unpredictable
‘Do the Math’ is the phrase so often used in the United States. This morning, as the dust settles on what has been a truly historic night in British politics, strategists at Labour and Conservative HQ will be doing just that, probably with the Alka-Seltzer close by.
Whatever hyperbole gets used to describe it, the Clacton by-election was truly astonishing. Having defected from the Conservatives to UKIP, Douglas Caraswell managed to take what on paper was one of the Tories’ safest seats.
Having not stood in the seat in 2010, UKIP last night secured 59.75 per cent of the votes cast, with a majority of 12,404. To put that into some perspective, both these figures are higher than what Carswell secured when standing for the Conservatives at the General Election.
The Conservatives meanwhile saw their share of the vote drop to 24.64 per cent, a fall of 28.38 per cent. The remainder of UKIP’s vote came largely from Labour voters. Having held the seat’s predecessor until 2005, the party secured just 11.2 per cent of the vote last night, down 13.84 per cent on its performance in 2010.
The Lib Dems were also humiliated. Pushed into fifth place behind the Greens on 1.37 per cent of the vote (483 votes), the party that was once such an effective by election machine lost yet another deposit, with a fall in its share of the vote compared with 2010 of 11.57 per cent.
Attempts by Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps to scare UKIP voters by declaring that voting UKIP helps Labour won’t wash based on the Clacton results.
Heywood and Middleton
If Clacton was a predictable win for UKIP, Heywood and Middleton was the most surprising result of the night.
Whilst bookies had shortened the odds on a UKIP victory in a traditional Labour heartland seat, no one seriously thought that the Farage machine would realistically threaten Ed Miliband. Lord Ashcroft’s polling in the seat ahead of the vote put Labour on 47 per cent, 19 per cent ahead of UKIP on 28 per cent. Indeed, Ashcroft declared somewhat ominously that Labour was “on course for a comfortable victory in this week’s Heywood & Middleton by-election”.
What happened last night could not have been more of a contrast.
A night of high tension for Labour saw UKIP demanding a recount as it managed to slash Labour’s majority from the 5,971 secured in 2010 to just 617 last night.
Whilst Labour managed to increase its share of the vote from around 40 per cent at the General Election to 41 per cent last night, this is not the kind of increase that a Labour party headed to form a government on its own should be securing this close to May’s election.
UKIP on the other hand saw its share of the vote increase by just over 36 per cent.
Again, as with Clacton, Grant Shapps’ mantra that voting UKIP gets Labour cannot be supported by a result in Heywood and Middleton, which showed that voting UKIP nearly got the constituency a UKIP MP.
For Labour too, if they hadn’t got the message by now, this result should shake strategists out of the complacency they have wallowed in for too long and realise that UKIP doesn’t help Labour one bit.
All strategies at Labour HQ, if they have not already done so, should this morning be settling down and reading the Fabian Society’s excellent Revolt on the Left research, showing not just the threats posed by UKIP but also, crucially, how to respond in policy, communication and organisational terms.
With just seven months to go until the General Election, the electrical landscape has never been more unpredictable. UKIP and the SNP on the way up, the Lib Dems in near terminal decline, and both Labour and Conservatives stuck in a rut and unable to cope or understand how to respond to such a volatile landscape.
A hung parliament now looks more certain than ever next May and anything is possible.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot ForwardLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.