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One of the reasons Labour MPs are deciding to try and ditch Jeremy Corbyn is the fear that following the referendum result UKIP would become the official opposition by seizing swathes of Labour seats in the North and Midlands at the next general election.
Their ( at present) ex leader Nigel Farage boasted to journalists at a reception earlier this year that UKIP would win hundreds of seats from Labour in a Scotland style melt down as the working class deserted Corbyn over immigration and leadership issues.
Since UKIP achieved its ambition for Brexit this month one would expect them to be riding high every time voters went to the polls.
But the handful of council by-elections since Brexit are telling a totally different story with Labour actually increasing its share of the vote in some seats – and when under fire mainly losing votes to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Although these results are at present straws in the wind they seem to suggest that public is separating its vote to remain or leave the EU from its support for parties on domestic and local issues. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.
By coincidence two of the first council by-elections were in heartland UKIP areas in Kent and showed an increase in the Labour vote and a decline in support for UKIP.
In every other seat UKIP contested they lost their previous share of the vote and when they challenged Labour in a Luton ward for the first time came bottom of the poll with a derisory 69 votes.
The by- election in Welling in the London borough of Bexley was in a borough that voted to leave and in an unpromising ward for Labour that included had one UKIP and two Tory councillors.
Yet the result last Thursday in St Michael’s ward saw the Labour share of the vote increase by 11.5 per cent to come a close second to defeating the Tory who recorded a 2.7 per cent increase in his share. UKIP’s share of the vote declined by 14.7 per cent. Over 30 per cent of the electorate voted – one week after Bexley recorded a decisive vote to leave.
The second by-election in Newington in Thanet – a UKIP stronghold – saw UKIP just retain the seat by 14 votes. But the UKIP share was down four per cent and the Labour share was up 1.9 per cent. The Tory share was down 2.5 per cent.
Two other results in High Town, Luton and Leatherhead North in Surrey saw Labour lose a share of the vote but not at the expense of a declining UKIP. Leatherhead was a straight battle between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats who gained the seat with a 27 per cent increase in the share of the vote.
In High Town the main challengers were the Green Party who clipped Labour’s majority and the Liberal Democrats who stood for the first time gaining 14.2 per cent. UKIP got 5.4 per cent of the vote. Labour’s share of the vote was down 13.4 per cent.
Conway in North Wales might be a example that detractors could quote. The Labour share of the vote in last Thursday’s by election in Mostyn fell 6.1 per cent. Local circumstances – the previous Labour councillor, a ship’s captain who hardly attended council meetings – may have been a factor.
The Tory share went up by 4.7 per cent and the Lib Dems by 4.9 per cent. But significantly the UKIP candidate – known in the area as he had stood as an independent – could only muster 75 votes -under 10 per cent of the poll. A full analysis can be seen on this site.
Given the state of the Labour Party at the moment their performance in local councils is extremely robust. It still has to be tested in a by-election in the North and Midlands. But on the evidence so far the UKIP threat is a myth when it comes to the ballot box.
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The undemocratic political conspiracy to topple Jeremey Corbyn came from a mixture of wanting to retain the power structure developed under Tony Blair and fear that the ability of Jeremey to connect with the public would also bring about support for policies such as the renationalization of the railway and the abandonment of nuclear deterrent starting with the decision not to renew the Trident varying submarines. I also accept that many other Labour backbenchers from seats in the North feared that UKIP would form the basis of a new centre right party pressing for the full Brexit in the event the Tory Party failed to deliver and what the what the referendum vote attempted to achieve.
The fear of support for UKIP did not arise as anticipated in the 2015 General Election although the rise of a race and foreigner hate politics which has been strong among Labour and well as right wing politics since I first discovered on moving to the North East in 1974 and was still strong when I last canvassed a couple of years back. Listening to the funder of UKIP on the Andrew Marr programme this morning he anticipates the ability to win 30 or 40 seats in the broad North even if the new Tory Leadership goes ahead with the Brexit agenda and which was likely if someone other than Teresa May became the Prime Minister. Given the major blunder of the challenger made worse by the attempt to cover up by saying she was misrepresented, the present Home Secretary looks certain with the outcome that every effort will be made by the establishment to postpone starting the article 50 process until deal which I effect retains he same UK relationship as at present, limiting political involvement and achieving a stronger control on the movement of Labour both of which will far from satisfy the Tory right and the UKIP membership.
The outcome could be fundamental change in the UK politics with separate centre right and centre left parties and new centre part in the middle although in this respect the role of the Liberal Democrats will be crucial.. One can foresee a new pro Europe centre Party attracting members form all three of the major political parties in the UK. Everything could become more clear in the next 7 to 10 days as May’s team exploit the stupidity of her opponent, the N.E.C of the Labour seriously consider defying the membership by refusing to allow Jeremy to stand without the required 51 votes in which case other contenders for the Leadership will emerge and a motion to condemn Tony Blair is agreed by the House of Commons.
Forgotten is that the Conservative and Lib Dem parties will not contest the Batley and Spen By Election whoever the constituency party agrees to select. One should not be surprised if David Miliband is selected as his approach to politics at home and internationally is similar to that of Jo Cox. In such a situation he could well also become an immediate candidate for the Party Leadership.
The reason Ukip type politics has got a grip of the North East, and other areas which should be, were once, Labour heartlands, is quite simple: a generation of voters has been alienated by New Labour politics, and rejected what has become the establishment in local government in those areas too.
Blair represented Sedgefield, where some of my family live – a former mining area – and yet, as PM, he refused to speak at the Miners’ Gala, in defiance of the tradition of every other Labour leader. The message to voters was clear, and unpalatable.
The current Durham county council has further disgraced itself by measures such as sacking all teaching assistants, and forcing them to reapply for their jobs on lower wages. It is hardly surprising that this sort of political agenda, and the uncompromising adoption of austerity cuts, is causing a crisis in support for Labour – and it is too soon for Corbyn’s leadership of the party to win back the voters they need. Lurching back to right of centre politics, and a more right wing leader, will do nothing to help the situation.
UKIP are a failed state masquerading as a bandwagon but neither the Blairites nor the Corbynites seem capable of showing them up for what they are.
Corbyn does not seem to be the electoral disaster that Labour MPs are determined he should become.