The result of the Newark by-election is in and the media’s talking heads and the analysts in the parties are scurrying around trying to draw conclusions and pointers from it.
While there is much talk of halved majorities and the UKIP ‘surge’, it would actually appear, going deeper than the superficial glance some normalcy is returning to Newark and the overall result is noteworthy for slightly different reasons.
All the analysis and reporting focuses on comparions between this by-election and the 2010 General Election. But this ignores the exceptional circumstances of 2010 – where the least popular government in modern history hemorrhaged votes and seats, everyone in the bubble seemed to agree with Nick which boosted the Lib Dem share of the vote and despite the Tories being hot favourites to win, they had already conspired to underperform due to late policy reversals by Cast Iron Dave.
It would seem far more realistic, with the Tory-led coalition being unpopular and Labour doing OK in the polls, to look back at previous elections in the constituency to give a more ‘business as usual’ look. Combining the elections in 2001 and 2005 gives us an average vote for the parties (main parties only) when the polls looked much as they do now. In Newark the averages look like this…
While the media rightly points out UKIP’s performance as noteworthy in Newark having increased their vote there by 413% from 2010, are they really right to suggest the UKIP effect halved the Tory majority? UKIP have apparently already fallen back a little from the European Elections performance in the constituency. But surely the bigger news is what the result tells us about the performances of Labour and the Lib Dems…
We can see that with this being a by-election the votes cast for main parties and the turnout are down as expected from 2010. But look at the votes and vote shares compared to the 2001 & 2005 combined average. Labour has gone from 36% vote share to 19% and the Lib Dems from 14% to 2%.
Labour might content itself issuing its current line that Newark is not its kind of territory. But their share of the vote, for an opposition party seeking to form the next government, with their track record in the constituency in 2001 and 2005, is staggering.
In contrast, the unpopular Tories, whose MP had lost the whip in disgrace before resigning from Parliament, expected to get some punishment from voters but in fact despite this being a by-election ripe for a protest vote and a kicking at the hands of fed up voters, their share of the vote was actually higher than in 2001 and 2005.
No doubt many Labour voters stayed at home or voted tactically with UKIP. UKIP maximised its vote in its effort to score a major upset. The Lib Dem collapse contiued to exhibit itself in amazing fashion. Some Tories stayed away to make their point or even flirted with UKIP. But even so, the election stats are remarkable for different reasons than the media would have you think.