31 Oct 2014

Labour’s by-election – but all three main parties are in despair

Labour heaved a sigh of relief this afternoon that they avoided defeat to Ukip in the by-election to choose a new police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire.  Losing the seat would have been especially embarrassing when Ed Miliband is a South Yorkshire MP.

The full result was –

  • Alan Billings (Lab) 74,060 (50.02 per cent)
  • Jack Clarkson (Ukip) 46,883 (31.66 per cent)
  • Ian Walker (C) 18,536 (12.52 per cent)
  • David Allen (Eng Dem) 8,583 (5.80 per cent)

So Labour won on the first round under the supplementary vote system which operates in PCC elections, after Ukip had been expected to run Labour close. The by-election was caused by the resignation of Shaun Wright (pictured below), who was forced out, albeit with considerable difficulty, over his record as the councillor in charge of children’s services in Rotherham, and his failure the stop the child sex abuse scandal.

Shaun Wright Appears Before South Yorkshire Police And Crime Panel

So Labour’s victory was quite comfortable. They even beat Ukip in Rotherham itself, though only by 800 votes.  Labour’s lead in the three other boroughs – Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield – was much more substantial.

Labour had a good candidate in the vicar Alan Billings, who is something of a local personality, and well-known to listeners of the Radio 4’s Thought got the Day slot. Ukip, in contrast, may have put out confusing messages. It is difficult to attack the failures of South Yorkshire police in the Rotherham scandal when your candidate has spent his life as a policeman in the South Yorkshire force, though in  Sheffield, not Rotherham.

And the South Yorkshire result may slow down Ukip’s growing anti-Labour momentum. It would seeem to undermine Nigel Farage’s boast in September that his party is now parking its tanks “on Ed Miliband’s lawn”.

Labour has even issued figures trying to show that today’s result implies an 8.6 per cent swing from Ukip to Labour since the European elections in May. Such analysis looks pretty desperate.

And Labour has a bit of cheek to ask, as a party spokesman did today, whether the Conservatives will similarly hold off the Ukip threat in Rochester. The bigger question is why Labour isn’t fighting Rochester properly themselves when on the 2010 figures it ought to be a prime Labour by-election target.

Privately, the Labour party is deeply worried by the overnight poll for STV which gives the SNP a 29 per cent lead in Scotland, and which would result in Labour having just four Scottish MPs. Also worrying for Ed Miliband is today’s  YouGov poll giving the Conservatives a 1 per cent lead nationwide. The small lead which Labour has enjoyed for all of this year has not been totally eroded.

These are not figures which suggest a decisive Labour victory next May, even allowing for in-built pro-Labour skewing within the electoral system.

Perhaps the biggest consolation for Labour right now is that MPs from all the three main parties are in despair about their prospects – to an extent I’ve never experienced before in politics.

The Conservatives are resigned to a second by-election defeat to Ukip in Rochester, and many Tories can’t see how they’ll ever get a majority next May. And the Lib Dems, who didn’t even stand in South Yorkshire, face the real possibility of losing half their Commons seats.

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