Saturday 22 October 2016

Two Points About Two By-Elections

Is the new normal the same as the old normal? As previously argued, the 2012 Corby by-election called so former Tory MP Louise Mensch could spend more time trolling 17 year olds on Twitter was the last political contest in England and Wales where UKIP wasn't a factor. For every parliamentary by-election after, they were. They had become the go-to protest regardless of who was holding the seat, and chalked up seconds in each. That remained the case in this Parliament until Thursday.

Standing aside in Batley and Spen like the other parties, Witney was the contest to prove their flush isn't entirely busted. Instead their slice of the vote fell by more than half, were beaten by the Greens, and the deposit forfeit. Please be patient while my crocodile cries me a river. Instead, the LibDems surged past Labour and grabbed the coveted second place slot. Dave's majority fell by 15 points, but with another 15 separating the newly anointed Robert Courts from the yellow party I don't think he'll be getting to twitchy about the size of his majority. Still, could ongoing political instability now manifest itself as an apparent return to how things used to be before the purples pooped the party?

There are a couple of emergent trends that say ... possibly. We know UKIP's all over bar the shouting, but their failure cannot explain, in this instance, an insurgent LibDem vote in a super safe Tory seat. The LibDems have effectively acquired a second wind since the referendum. Building on creditable local council by-election performances over the last year, these last four months see them up 19 seats, and they're taking seats from everyone though, it has to be said, mainly the Tories. There could be a couple of things going on. Firstly, as the die hard remainer party they might be attracting some who are wedded to the European Union and don't presently find Labour attractive for all the usual reasons. But more important is Theresa May's authoritarianism, Wrexitism, and anti-immigrant posturing. Dave was awful, but he could occasionally affect the pose of a liberal Tory well. Say what you like about the man, but he was no racist and didn't play fast and loose with immigration in the same way May is doing. Well, that has consequences, and so for a chunk of Tory support the LibDems are a fair option. Not that May is entirely bothered seeing as she's cultivating the kipper and non-Labour voting sections of the working class to the exclusion of all else. If this dynamic persists, it could well mean the LibDems might take back the seats grabbed by the Tories. What will happen in Richmond Park should Zac Goldsmith resign over Heathrow is set to be interesting.

Turning to Batley and Spen, the by-election we should never have had to have, there was never any question of Tracy Brabin not holding the seat for Labour. With the other main parties standing aside, our vote share increased by almost 43 points and none of her opponents - the flotsam and jetsam of a shattered far right - went home with their deposits. The by-election, however, comes with a warning. Between them the English Democrats, BNP, Liberty GB, and NF pulled together 8.9% of the vote. Ten per cent if you include the idiotic 'Anti-Corbyn' standing under 'English Independence'. Their collective vote may well have been swelled by the absence of any other party, but the fact that one in ten was prepared to vote for a racist after their previous MP was murdered by a member of the far right is deeply, deeply troubling. If UKIP are going to disappear up their own backsides, well, the Liberal Democrats might not be the only ones to acquire newly-found support.


Metatone said...

Yep. I think that 10% is an important indicator of the new reality.

UKIP vote was always a melange of protest from different directions, but we should be clear that there is a 10% hardline far-right vote out there and they are emboldened by Brexit.

David Timoney said...

Witney is part of West Oxfordshire, which voted 54/46 to remain in June. In other words, it is once of those rich/liberal Tory areas that felt itself well-served by the coalition. The strong showing for the LibDems looks like short-term nostalgia.

There is clearly an element here of a naturally Tory vote protesting against the illiberal turn of May, but I'd expect them to fall in line come a general election, so it strikes me as optimistic to see this (as some do) as indicative of a LibDem recovery across the board.

As for the hard-right, most sociologists and historians have judged the unreconcilable core to be around 5% of the population. A fluctuation to 10% of the vote is well within historical norms, so (again) I'd caution against assuming this represents a fundamental shift in sentiment.

Also, while UKIP will have attracted some hard-right nutters (disproportionately reflected in their media coverage), these were negligible to its popularity: there just aren't enough of them. They built their support on a) Tories alienated by Cameron et al and b) non-Tories disaffected after 1997 (which included more LibDems than Labour, by the way).

With May cultivating the authoritarian constituency, UKIP's best hope is to return to its libertarian roots (i.e. pre-Farage). This isn't likly to happen because of Farage's ego, and because they have become addicted to the buzz of right-populism and the delusion that thuey could supplant Labour. Woolfe clearly saw this.

Boffy said...

As I've argued for a long time, about 30% of the population are racists and bigots. That is shown by the massive overlap of those who voted Leave and who also in polling opposed homosexuality, environmentalism, feminism and so on. That doesn't mean this 30% of the population who are bigots, are the same as the hard core 5% who have supported the far-right.

Anyone who has been around for a long time, knows that many of that 30% are also Labour voters, some even Labour Party members, as well as trade union members and again some are TU activists. Going back a while just think of the Ulster Workers Strike, or the London Dockers strike and march in support of Enoch Powell.

It should be borne in mind that the 10% for the hard-right in Batley was 10% of a lower poll than in a General Election.

I also argued at the end of last year that Corbyn would see a consolidation of Labour's vote in Labour seats, but in Tory seats Labour would probably at first go backwards. That seems to be correct. The Liberal by-election success should not be overestimated. Its mostly in Tory seats,a nd for the same reason, is likely to emphasise in Labour seats that they are just a Tory-lite option, which the coalition proved.

Labour needs to undercut their ability to pick up the progressive working class and middle class support for Remain. I think Labour should forget the bourgeois-democratic nonsense about having to accept a narrow, and debatable referendum result. Our task is to defend the interests of workers, not to passively accept one off votes in elections/referendums.

Corbyn should come out with a vigorous campaign to reject the referendum result, and to overturn it. He should do so on the basis not of some wishy-washy attempt to protect "British" interests, but on the basis of a campaign by socialist and social-democratic forces across Europe, such as with Syriza, Podemos etc.

We need a series of big demonstration across Britain and the rest of Europe around a key set of demands to defend workers rights, and to construct a new social Europe.

Igor Belanov said...

@ Boffy

"Corbyn should come out with a vigorous campaign to reject the referendum result, and to overturn it. He should do so on the basis not of some wishy-washy attempt to protect "British" interests, but on the basis of a campaign by socialist and social-democratic forces across Europe, such as with Syriza, Podemos etc."

I certainly agree that international links are vital and the Labour Party ought to be participating vigorously with left-wing movements abroad. But unfortunately the EU has proved itself to be a very difficult institution to 'sell' in recent years, and its advantages for the working-class are often cancelled out by its neoliberalism. As such, rejecting the referendum result outright might be more than just disregarding 'bourgeois-democratic' norms but actually wasting time trying to make an increasingly discredited EU look attractive, and aligning Corbyn with the very people that have been doing their best to stamp him out!

A more politically astute approach might be to accept that the UK has to leave EU institutions in the legal sense, but that this is all that the electorate has decided, leaving the essential relationships open to political decision. Thus Labour can continue to argue for free movement of labour, worker's rights, etc. A very 'soft Brexit' coupled with successful Europe-wide left-wing links could even make rejoining a more socially-orientated Europe a real possibility in the medium term.

ejh said...

Say what you like about the man, but he was no racist

I am not at all sure that, given his "swamped" and "bunch of refugees" comments, this is as obvious as you are making it sound.

Phil said...

I make it 3.1% for actual fascists and 6.6% for creepy English nationalists - although, as you say, any English nationalist who'd stand for election in those conditions is more than just a bit creepy.

Something I was repeatedly struck by, when I was researching the (semi-mythical) Labour-UKIP swing of 2015, was just how strong the BNP vote had been in a lot of the UKIP 'surge' areas. Going from (say) 5% to 20% between 2010 and 2015 is impressive, but it looks a lot less remarkable when you notice that the BNP had taken 8% of the vote in that same seat and the National Front another 2%.

When Jo Cox was elected in 2015, UKIP came third in Batley & Spen with 18% of the vote. In 2005 and 2010 UKIP didn't stand, but the BNP got 6.8% and 7.1% of the vote respectively, both times on a much higher turnout (2/3rds of 2010's BNP vote would be enough to account for the entire far-right vote this time). It's a real problem, but it's been building for a while.

ejh said...

We know UKIP's all over bar the shouting

Yeah probably, but let me offer an alternative scenario. Suppose we have several months of economic bad news due to the fear of Brexit and the approach of the date for triggering Article 50. Suppose also that it becomes more and more obvious to Conservative pundits and backers that the only way to head off economic catastrophe is to backtrack and accept that leaving the EU is manifestly the wrong thing to do.

Now given that whatever the Conservative Party is there for, what it is not there for is inflicting economic disaster on the capitalist class, and given that the major reason for its longevity and success has been its pragmatism, can we not see a situation whereby May addresses the House of Commons and announced that the time is not right for the implementation of Article 50 and that it will be postponed effectively forever?

That would be a hard thing to do and a risky one, but I'm not sure it would be harder or risker than presiding over the fall of the pound to below a dollar, or the exodus of City firms to wherever the living is easier. So while I'm not saying it will happen it seems to me it's hardly inconceivable.

But it certainly would be risky, because to take such a course would surely be to split the Right, perhaps permanently, between pragmatists on one hand and people calling those pragmatists traitors on the other.

And in that situation, you have the most enormous boost either to UKIP, or
to something even nastier that comes in in its place.

BCFG said...

Judging by the fact that twice as many voters trust Theresa May with the economy and Brexit than they do Corbyn maybe Corbyn needs to follow May's lead, pander to racists, have no plan for Brexit and promise to destroy the NHS. These seem wildly popular.

Of course the fact that twice as many voters trust Theresa May with the economy and Brexit is nothing other than proof of the brainwashing power of the unfree media.

But it should also be noted that you can't brainwash someone to jump of a cliff!

So you have people already conditioned to be susceptible to the brainwashing of the media.

I would say, looking at for example polls on immigration, that around 70 to 80% of the population are racist and bigoted. And the other 20% are apathetic! At least 90% fall in the bracket of being irresponsible consumers who think their divine right to indulge in their every want should come at the expense of everything, including the planet we live on. The far right are the very least of our problems and not worth losing sleep over. The 90% should make us wake up in the night screaming for our mommies!

The left should stop wasting its time trying to pander to these people and take up active opposition.

The centrists always make too much of what a great disaster a vote for the Tories would be, as if electing them would be much different!

We should turn radical and accept being in opposition rather than trying to pander, flatter and amuse this backward and dangerous rabble.

And if they don't come to our banner then leave them to their deserved fate.

Lidl_Janus said...

The far-right vote in Batley/Spen works out at around 2.5% of the electorate when turnout is accounted for, and less than 1% if Phil's definition of 'actual fascists' is accepted. Those 'actual fascists' got less than 1,000 votes, too.

As for the Lib Dems, the revival is real if they convince people it's real. Politics has always been about perception, but it's never been more about simulacra without referents - see Brexit, Donald the Flatulent's presidential run, or BCFG's posts on any given subject.