Thursday, 22 November 2012

Suppose they held an election and nobody voted....

Last Thursday's elections for Police and Crime Commissioners were a huge triumph for the Apathy Party with turnouts of around or below 20% in many areas. What bthey told us in terms of the current political mood is less easy to determine. With the Liberal Democrats, who were opposed to Police and Crime Commissioners but agreed to support the elections as part of the Coalition Agreement, only running half-hearted campaigns and some Liberal Democrats, such as Brian Greenslade in Devon & Cornwall, running as Independents and splitting the Lib Dem vote, the Conservatives might have expected to do better than they did.

Indeed, in Surrey, the Conservative Party candidate was beaten by an Independent and generally non-aligned Independents polled well which is often the case in low turnout contests.

There were also three by-elections for Westminster. In Manchester Central and Cardiff South & Penarth, Labour won easily as their principal opponents lost ground. In Manchester, the Liberal Democrats lost vote share but remained second while the Conservatives, in third and losing their deposit, finished only five votes in front of UKIP. In Cardiff South, the Liberal Democrats, despite a drop in vote share, still finished third as Plaid Cymru failed to benefit.

Corby was the only seat to change hands and this was arguably the most significant result of the day as the turnout was a respectable 45%. Labour re-captured the seat it had lost in 2010 on a 12.7% swing from the Conservatives (the Labour vote share went up 9.8% while the Tory vote share crashed 15.6%) .

UKIP, which claimed it was challenging for second, finished third with 14% while the Liberal Democrats, who were a poor third in 2010, lost two thirds of their vote to finish fourth with just under 5% and a lost deposit. Interestingly, the BNP lost significantly too.

It's obviously a disappointing result for the Liberal Democrats but in a seat where there was no obvious chance of success and in a hugely unfavourable climate. UKIP couldn't mount an old-fashioned Lib Dem-style by-election challenge and while some on the blogsphere continue to play up the party's prospects, the truth is that UKIP are where the Liberals were in the 1950s but without the heartland of a single seat.

The Conservatives also suffered badly and may put some of that down to the circumstances of the by-election itself but Labour will be content that they captured the kind of seat they need to win in 2015 to regain a majority but the underlying question remains whether the Labour vote is soft and whether any kind of return of economic well-being will result in a swing back to the Coalition parties.

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