BBC News, Radio 4 and others have been giving plenty of airtime and oxygen – as they did for years without justification in featuring Farage on every possible occasion – to the UKIP ‘near-triumph’ of UKIP in the Heywood and Middleton by-election. The claim, in pseudo-rational analysis by pundits and near-histrionic terms by UKIP spokespeople, has been that the result is a scare for Labour and a clear demonstration of UKIP’s supposed threat to Labour in its heartlands.
Nonsense – as a quick comparison of yesterday’s results and the 2010 General Election results will show.
Here are the results side by side:
The first thing to note is that Labour’s vote is down by 37% – exactly the same as the percentage drop in turnout (36/57.5 = 63%). As is well known, in what is perceived as a solid seat for any party, voters for that party usually turn out in lower numbers in a by-election because of the assumption that others will vote in sufficient numbers to secure the win).
It is almost unquestionable that this would have happened in Heywood and Middleton, where a by-election resulting from the death of a popular Labour MP would have been expected by the local populace to bring a straightforward Labour win. In fact, it’s extremely likely that the fall in Labour turnout was higher than the average, which would make Labour’s result an effective increase on 2010.
The UKIP vote rose by 9,800 – with a massive effort from them to create an upset. It’s certain that every would-be UKIP voter would turn out to vote, either in protest or in the hope of creating that upset or at least putting on a ‘good’ show.
But now look at the Tory result. The Tories were terrified of getting a worse result than UKIP in this election and will have mobilised every possible effort. Yet the drop in their vote was massive – and almost identical to the increase in the UKIP vote.
Not only that, but the BNP did not stand a candidate – unlike in 2010. Since, as we saw in Rotherham, in a strong Labour area the UKIP vote basically cannibalises the BNP vote, it is very safe to assume that the same happened in M&H yesterday.
UKIP’s vote rose by 9.800. The Tory vote fell by over 9,000 and the BNP vote disappeared.
Without the former-BNP vote, UKIP would not have been able even to match the fall in the Tory vote – in spite of what must have been a high turnout of their voters and a massive effort to create a splash.
This was nothing like the result that UKIP and the media are trying to paint it as. So what was it – what are the real lessons?
First and foremost, that – as always, and in spite of claims to the contrary by Farage and his cronies – all UKIP were able to do in a ‘Labour heartland’ was cannibalise the votes of disaffected Tories and, even more shamefully, of the disgraceful BNP.
Secondly, while this was very nearly a disaster for the Labour party, it’s extremely unlikely to set or demonstrate a trend. Labour voters stayed at home in the Heywood and Middleton by-election – but one close call is enough to ensure that this mistake will not be repeated in other seats at the next election.
Sadly, this isn’t a view you’ll hear/read mentioned in the media. So spread the word.