Party politics is a tribal business and it was no surprise this morning to see my tribe had won the Wythenshawe and Sale East By Election in a landslide. The results were as follows:
Makes no Difference so Not Bothered - 61,034 (71.8%)
Labour - 13,261 (15.6%)
UKIP - 4,301 (5.1%)
Conservative - 3,479 (4.1%)
Lib Dem - 1,176 (1.4%)
Green - 748 (0.9%)
BNP - 708 (0.8%)
Monster Raving Loony - 288 (0.3%)
We will get to the implications for democracy in just a moment. So what does this mean for the parties?
Labour said they knocked on every door in the constituency, yet even with the abuse-enabling postal vote they were unable to motivate even 16 in every 100 voters to make a positive vote for them. This was always a win and from the moment he was appointed, Mike Kane could have used his candidacy as collateral for long term borrowing and planned a new, well funded lifestyle with plenty of holiday time and boondoggles to cherry pick from.
UKIP as ever talked a great game but even before the declaration, Paul Nuttall was moaning about a postal vote stitch up and the inability of a party to build momentum during a campaign. This is fatuous nonsense. This is not the 1960s where voters had a range of policies to choose from on the big issues that matter, and therefore wait to be persuaded by powerful arguments before choosing who to vote for. With the EU running almost all the major portfolios, parties have little scope to change anything of substance and even less therefore to offer voters. Swing votes are increasingly cast on the basis of economic self interest, be that a desire for lower taxation and efficient services, or the preservation of benefits and welfare payments, in constituencies that are marginals between Labour and the Conservatives.
I said to friends before the election that anything less than 5,000 votes in this election would represent a failure for UKIP, as their vote would turn out even while others stay at home. Even as a dustbin for protest votes and with substantial media coverage over recent months, UKIP only managed to enthuse 5% of Wythenshawe’s voters to come out and support them in rejection of the other parties. This does not indicate any sense of a breakthrough. It shows the limitations of UKIP’s appeal and it represents a bad result for the party in the current political climate.
They will do better in some other constituencies where a vote for UKIP can inflict a bloody nose on another party in a close race, or where the election is meaningless, such as the European elections. But for all the noise of UKIP fanatics on comment threads, in the real world voters are not flocking to the party in the way its vocal followers imagine. On this showing, second place in the Euro elections seems more likely now.
Conservative election managers were expecting a pounding and they rightly got one. Their vote collapsed with it being obvious Labour would win easily. Tory campaigns have been hit hard by the loss of supporters, particularly since Cameron became leader and turned the party into the new age Social Democrats, then rejected the option of forming a minority government and calling another snap election to secure the extra seats they needed for a majority – instead getting into bed with the Limp Dums in order to give Cameron the cover he wanted to dump much Conservative policy. The party is finished in the northern urban areas. It has nothing to offer that differs from Labour and its own efforts to maintain a client state in years past is coming back to bite it hard now finances necessitate welfare to be reined in.
Fib Dim supporters repeatedly rejected suggestions they would lose their deposit here, but they did, then promptly went into a self imposed media blackout. Previously the party of all things to all men, now they are nothing to almost everyone. The party will now write off the Euro elections and prepare to see its MEP tally slashed to almost nil. All attention will turn to a ‘hold what we can’ strategy for 2015, where what remains of the Lib Dem activist base will be drafted in to selected constituencies where they have MPs for the most bitter and nasty election campaigns we will have ever seen in a desperate battle to retain most of their seats. If any party is devoting more time to party maintenance than anything else, it is Clegg’s declining rump. They have nothing to offer and most voters now treat them with the contempt they have long deserved.
Green / BNP can be lumped together as two cheeks of the same authoritarian arse. While one seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades in our industrialised and open country through damaging and regressive eco-loony policies, the other seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades to build a more inclusive society through racism and identity politics. Neither party is credible. Neither party appeals to anyone outside a limited number of angry and hate fuelled drones who want to ‘purify’ this country through ecological and traditional fascism respectively. Thankfully here they made up little more than 1% of eligible voters, but even that was too many.
Monster Raving Loony entertainment is always a fixture in By Elections and in addition to those who treated the election as a farce and stayed away, another 288 made an effort to come out and treat the party political process with a bit of extra contempt by voting for those upholding Sutch’s legacy.
So what does this mean for democracy?
We still don’t have it. We have an electoral process, but that’s all. Mike Kane will settle his backside onto the green benches, but will now answer to Labour whips in Parliament, vote as he is told and parrot prepared lines to take. He will go through the motions of being a lawmaker, but ultimately change absolutely nothing for the residents of Wythenshawe and Sale East.
In 2015 he will stand again and will win again. More people will be motivated to turn out and vote just to ensure the hated Tories do not sneak in by some fluke of electoral happenstance. The Tories will regain second place as many of their stay away voters from this campaign come out in forlorn effort to stop Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister. UKIP back will likely slide back into third as the enthusiastic support they have has already turned out and few others will jump into their camp at the General Election, so they will be overtaken by Conservatives who will turn out after getting in a lather as a result of the General Election hype.
All in all, after great expense and column acres of discussion, analysis and interpretation, nothing of substance will change. Voters will be no more empowered and have no more control or ability to change things through the system than they had before. People power will remain a soothing catchphrase. Slowly though, more people will reject the process and increase the number of those who could be tempted to look at a radical alternative to what masquerades as democracy today.