By-election horrors:Labour’s dilemma and the faux fear of UKIP

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Labour’s: What future? Pic Credit :BBC

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Yesterday morning’s results for Labour were  very bad news. For the governing party which has presided over years of austerity and facing a real crisis over the NHS  to win Copeland from Labour is a disaster for the Opposition. Ed Miliband, after all ,managed to win a mid term by-election  in Corby from the Tories, even if he went on to lose the seat at the next general election.

Ignore any specific excuses -. the locality, nuclear industry,a bigger  rural seat – if Labour want to be in government they have to appeal to a broader sector of people and win marginal Tory seats back -not lose marginal Labour seats to the Tories. Theresa May cannot believe her luck – her message that the Tories will govern for all the people and not the privileged few has resonance whatever the facts.

It is not that Labour don’t have good policies for the NHS, community care, social housing, the railways – to name but a few – but they  have no overall vision of what type of society they want Britain to be in the twenty first century and can’t seem capable of explaining it. Also some local councils in Labour areas have the problem of being seen as the Establishment because they been in power for decades. And :Labour’s stand on just defending the NHS is not enough – that has been made very clear in Copeland.

Labour’s win in Stoke on Trent looks good news – given UKIP threw everything at it including their new leader – as part of their strategy for a new dawn replacing Labour as the working class party. But note that the Tory vote held up well and that the turn out was  36.7 per cent which was even below the 46.5 per cent turn out on the same day at a council by-election in Devon which saw a shock Lib Dem win from the Tories. That means the majority of people in Stoke on Trent were disengaged despite  austerity, Brexit and the NHS.

But we should not be so surprised over UKIP’s defeat – anyone watching council election results – outside their Essex and North Kent heartlands – would have realised they are a busted flush post the referendum. In council election after election their vote has been falling and they have even failed to get candidates to stand in seats where an existing UKIP councillor had quit – for example in Norfolk and Newquay in Cornwall. Their latest humiliation was in the Forest of Dean where a Green candidate who came last in a previous election won a seat  from UKIP. Note in Copeland UKIP came fourth behind the Liberal Democrats.

To my mind Labour has to refocus its attack on the mainstream parties. It has to challenge the Tory mantra that they are governing for everybody and  take into account the revived Liberal Democrat campaign in opposing Brexit. Otherwise they will continue to lose seats to both parties – particularly at local level with the May council elections looming.

This means that Labour’s current position on Brexit – to support it  but then pledge to hold the government to account over the  EU negotiations – has to be real. This means that if the deal for future trade,jobs and freedom of movement for Brits is going to be bad, they should combine with the Lib Dems, Greens and Scot Nats and even the Northern Irish parties if they oppose it, and demand a referendum on the terms. This will be a referendum on the facts of what real life will be like after Brexit not one on a vague hope of ” let’s take control”.

There is one other thing Labour needs to do. What was completely unreported this week was an extraordinary council by-election in Winklebury in  Tory run Basingstoke and Deane. Here a Labour candidate overturned a safe Tory majority,increasing the party’s vote share by 31 per cent and getting almost double the Tory vote on a 29 per cent poll.

Labour’s Angie Freeman told the local paper: “I really wanted to win this seat so I could do something for my community.It’s very humbling to know they believe in me and trust me and I’m determined to do my best for this community.

“I live here and know the issues that affect people well, so I will look to actively tackle the problems we’ve got.

“I’ve seen Winklebury go from a thriving community to become such a rundown area.

“We’re losing everything.First the GP went and now with the school too, enough is enough, so I will fight it as hard as I can.”

From what I can gather people in Winklebury couldn’t care a damn whether the Labour Party was led by Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair. But they did care that a local person wanted to fight for them under the Labour banner to protect their community. They obviously didn’t believe that Theresa May or Basingstoke Tories that they were governing for everybody.

Now Labour has a lot of new members who joined and the May council elections are going to be the next big political event. Doesn’t it make sense for Labour to galvanise these Young Turks and get them to stand for local council seats and vigorously campaign on local issues? After that we can tackle the issue of the leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Labour needs a simple message

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Jeremy Corbyn: Labour leader. Pic credit: Labour List

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Unless you live in Telford yesterday’s election results and latest polls for Labour were dire.

The council result in Telford was the one bright spark where Labour took a seat from the Conservatives with a 20 per cent increase in vote share. It is particularly significant because it is a marginal Tory Parliamentary seat won from Labour in 2015 by a right wing libertarian and pretty offensive Mp, Lucy Allan. A local blogger, Telford resident aka Neil Phillips, has blogged about her offensive tweeting.

The person defeated was her press officer and interestingly the Lib Dems and Greens did not stand. Also according to a local party tweeter,Andy Hicks, the Labour council financed a pretty formidable campaign against local NHS cuts so Labour was seen on the side of local residents..

But apart from a holding a  council seat in a ward dominated by Lancaster University the results were appalling for Labour. They were fourth in the Sleaford by-election behind the Liberal Democrats and UKIP and their poll standing dropped to a new low of 25 per cent. An experiment in another council by election in Tonbridge and Malling – where the Lib Dems and Greens consciously stood down so Labour had a clear run bombed. The Tories romped home and the Labour vote barely moved up. Disaster.

So what is going wrong. First the huge row over Corbyn’s leadership which split the Parliamentary Party has been no good for the party or the voters. Divided parties are doomed. The good news is that Corbyn’s decision to bring back  old hand Nick Brown as chief whip has brought some real strategy and discipline to the Parliamentary party. This was shown by the way Labour pushed the government into having to say something about their Brexit strategy last week. But so far this has not yet resonated with the electorate that the row is over..

Second the party has a lot to say – and this is shown in increased support in council by elections in their heartlands – for the poor. But the problem for Labour is not everyone is poor although one wonders under present government policy  how many more people will end up being poor by 2020.

Third Labour’s Brexit position is a mess. The Lib Dems have a simple message – vote Lib, stay remain – and UKIP have – vote for us and we get out now, no if’s or but’s. Labour, rather like the government, is somewhere in the middle – we have to leave but we’re not sure how we are going to do it.

Fourth, Labour has a good strong message on the NHS but has no other strong message on  jobs or Britain’s future. It has a very good point in defending employment rights – but it needs to ram this home in much simpler terms so its core vote sees what it means..

No one in Labour has spelt out in simple terms what sort of society it wants – and what it means for people.

But all is not lost. Paul Nuttall has still to convince me that he is going to replace Labour. His party’s vote is at best flat lining or in worse case scenario losing council seats to the Tories and the Lib Dems. Labour is not being challenged in its heartlands by UKIP – it is the Lib Dems that are  starting to sneak back in the metropolitan cities. And I am afraid I thought their progress in the Sleaford by-election in Lincolnshire – where UKIP had previously  found fertile ground- was pathetic. Their share went down when it should have gone up or they should have able to repeat the Lib Dems shock victory in Richmond Park. They didn’t. This leaves Labour a lot to play for -if only it can get its act together.

Liberal Democrats: On the rise again in the shires?

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Lib Dem poster Pic credit: http://www.geraldvernonjackson.org.uk/

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Almost without any comment  there appears to  be quite a  Liberal Democrat transformation in voting patterns outside the big cities in the latest rounds of council by-elections

The meltdown in the 2015 general election  left the Liberal Democrats with just eight seats in Parliament.The party seemed incapable of recovering from the damage it suffered from the electorate by going into a coalition with the Tories.

Indeed last year’s council by-elections saw the Lib Dems losing more ground to the Tories in places like Woking and Brentwood. The party made a little progress in the May local elections gaining 45 seats and control of one council, Watford.

Yet since the Brexit vote the Liberal Democrats – unscathed by any party infighting – have made  no fewer than six gains – two in Cornwall and one each in Wiltshire, Surrey, Norfolk and Northampton. I have written about this in Tribune  this week.

The interesting thing is not just the gains but the huge leap in vote share by the Liberal Democrats.

The latest result in Northampton – which came in after Tribune went to press- saw in Westone the Lib Dem share up 36.4 per cent and the Tory share down 28.8 per cent. A very useful website Vote UK Forum  records that in this ward the Lib Dems – despite a low poll – garnered 268 more votes  than in the general election.

The only other factor appears to be that the Liberal Democrat had stood for a nearby area some time ago and there was some resentment that the Tory lived in a village and not in the town.

The party – like Labour – is being helped by the decline in support for the now leaderless UKIP since the referendum. UKIP appears to be both declining and having difficulty in putting up council candidates.
The Lib Dem gain from UKIP in Cornwall was caused by UKIP not putting up a candidate in a seat they already held. As a result the Lib Dem candidate won the Newquay seat with a 57 per cent share of the vote. Conservative and Labour shares were down.
Lib Dems did well defeating another independent in Cornwall and one in Trowbridge, Wiltshire where the party got 45 per cent share of the vote. In North Norfolk they roundly defeated the Tory candidate in a seat which the Lib Dems had not contested at the last council election.

The interesting point is this is not being repeated where the Liberal Democrats are fighting Labour in metropolitan areas.Apart from a modest rise in one Islington seat won convincingly by Labour and a near miss in Southwark the party is performing dismally.

Indeed the challenge to Labour -if any- has come from the Greens who nearly won a seat in the London borough of Lambeth and ate into the Labour vote in both Luton and the London borough of Newham.

This would suggest that the “Corbyn” factor has not damaged Labour in its strongholds – indeed often the opposite with the Labour share increasing. And the Voter UK website also points that the revitalised local Labour Party are by far the best in getting their local vote out – up 10 per cent on average this year. But the Tories are holding off challenges from Labour in Tory marginals.

 

Labour’s UKIP fear factor: A ballot box illusion

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Jeremy Corbyn ; Labour doing well in council elections as UKIP declines

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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.

Oldham West: How Labour is defeating the UKIP challenge

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Anybody who has followed UKIP’s recent performances in council by elections would not have been surprised at the resounding victory by Labour over UKIP at Oldham West, the seat held by the late Michael Meacher MP.

Once again the Westminster Parliament appeared out of touch with local reality when it assumed that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership would mean the end of Labour as a serious fighting force and a close run result at Oldham, heralding a revival for UKIP.

The combination of a popular young local candidate in Jim McMahon, the leader of Oldham Council, and the fact that the Labour Party  has had a surge in membership meant that the party was well  placed to win.

The serious loser is Nigel Farage who ran a vicious anti Corbyn campaign using the worst of the deluge of bad press coverage, expecting a big boost from white working class voters in Oldham. But it didn’t happen – hence his outrageous attack today on Asian voters for keeping Labour in poll position.

This is a real problem for Farage because his entire strategy is to get the votes of mainly white working class voters in the North so he can replace  Labour as the official opposition by winning swathes of Northern seats.

This is clearly not happening in Oldham. Despite I suspect some switching  from the Tories to UKIP – resulting in the Tories very bad performance where their share of the vote dropped to under 10 per cent.

If you analyse the UKIP bad run of  council by-election results – it shows they are falling back  everywhere except in their traditional heartlands in the Fens, Kent and Essex. They are making no headway in London

The Oldham West result was preceded by a similar UKIP slump in a council by election in Chorley in Lancashire. In Chorley Labour recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes.

And there have been similar bad performances – including two last night -one in the London borough of Newham where there was an 9 per cent swing to Labour and UKIP got only 3.9 per cent of the vote.Labour got 1440 votes, UKIP, 78.

The other was in the Malvern Hills – a Tory heartland – where UKIP was pushed into third place, halving their share of the vote, to 13.3 per cent from 27.7 per cent. They got 56 votes. Labour, standing for the first time in the ward, got nearly 23 per cent of the vote, 96 votes with the Tory winning with 268 votes.

Where UKIP do have presence – their effect has been to hit the main parties without winning outright. In Ashford, Tories took a seat from Labour by two votes and in Rochford, Essex, Labour took a Tory seat by four votes.

However pundits or commentators want to play it.- this was a good result for Labour, a bad result for UKIP, and an appalling result for the Westminster Establishment who had written the Labour Party into the history books.

 

The full result
Jim McMahon (Labour) – 17,209 (62.11%)
John Bickley (UKIP) – 6,487 (23.41%)
James Daly (Conservative) – 2,596 (9.37%)
Jane Brophy (Liberal Democrat) – 1,024 (3.70%)
Simeon Hart (Green Party) – 249 (0.90%)
Sir Oink A-Lot (Monster Raving Loony) – 141 (0.51%)

 

 

 

 

Is Corbyn’s Labour already cutting the mustard with local voters?

Tommy Gray- Labour's biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

Tommy Gray- Labour’s biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

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One interest I found I share with Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage is that both us every week check the Twitterfeed of @britainelects – which provides details of every local council by-election in Britain.

Our exchange at the book launch of Lord Ashcroft’s Call Me Dave unauthorised biography revealed that both of us have a healthy scepticism of opinion polls but a mutual interest in seeing how real voters are turning out to vote in by elections across the country.

Corbyn’s mauling in the mainstream media coupled with distrust among the Parliamentary party one might expect no one in their right mind to vote Labour and for evidence in advance of the Oldham Parliamentary by-election that he is already in trouble.

In fact the reverse is true which might explain why the same mainstream media has been rather quiet about it. Three by-elections in totally different seats have seen huge swings to Labour. I write about this in Tribune magazine this week.

They are Euxton North ward in Chorley, Lancashire; South Camberwell in London  and Banbury in Oxfordshire..

In Chorley the party recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes. The Tories were second and saw their vote drop by 0.3 per cent with 443 votes.

In South Camberwell, in the London Borough of Southwark, Labour recorded a 9 per cent swing – winning with 1,244 votes – and taking a 57.9 per cent share of the vote. The party’s nearest rival, the Greens, saw a 1.3 per cent drop and the Tories were down 1.4 per cent. Only the Lib Dems, who were third, recorded a small increase of 2.3 per cent but polled just 200 votes.

In Banbury, Oxfordshire, saw Labour take a seat from the Conservatives on a 5.9 per cent swing –taking 45 per cent of the vote in the Grimsby and Castle ward in the town. The Tory vote fell by 7 per cent and the Lib Dem vote fell by 1.5 per cent. UKIP’s share of the vote did rise 5.6 per cent – but the party only got 150 votes. Labour polled 781.

The results are not mainly good  for UKIP whose plan to oust Labour as the party of the Opposition in the North is plainly not working as their council candidates are taking a mauling in some seats and making no progress in others.The Tories are very resilient. their vote is going up from a low base in Scotland and they have made four gains  this autumn – three from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. They also put in a credible performance in Barrow where they gained 23 per cent in a traditional Labour seat  almost ousting the UKIP opposition candidate. And Labour are still falling back in Scotland.

The one bad result for Labour in England has been Bury where the Tories took a seat from then with a swing approaching 14 per cent – but other parties also lost votes.

The Lib Dems seem to be reviving in rural areas – running the Tories close in one seat and taking a Sussex seat – but they are still declining in urban areas. They can boast one landslide result in Torbay when their former MP Adrian Sanders held a seat on a 39 per cent swing. But the same night they lost their third seat to the Tories in Aberdeen.

All this suggests that there is still a lot to play for – but Labour which had a huge rise in membership following Corbyn’s victory is more than holding its own and getting some spectacular swings.

The Tory narrative put forward by Cameron and Osborne is also still hitting a nerve – otherwise they would not be gaining seats. All this makes  the December 3 by-election in Oldham the more interesting.

Will a Tory town hall victory in May lead to bitter defeat in July?

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans gov.uk

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans gov.uk

This weekend’s Observer contained a very interesting article from Toby Helm revealing that local councils are planning to lobby the government like mad to stop yet another huge wave of cuts.

What was interesting is that it was coming from the victorious Tory leaders in May’s local elections who are now fearful of having to implement heavy unpopular cuts to local services.

It has gone virtually unreported the scale of the local government gains by the Conservatives who gained of 32 councils and 541 more councillors on the back of getting a majority in Parliament. the full results are on the BBC website here.

The gains – many from  no over all control include Amber Valley (from Labour),Basingstoke, Bath,Brentwood, Broxtowe,East Staffs,Gloucester, Gravesham,Hinckley (from Lib Dems),Herefordshire,Lewes, Newark,North Warwickshire,Scarborough,St Albans,Taunton, Warwick, West Devon,Winchester,Worcester and Wyre Forest.

Labour had just three gains, Chester, Stockton-on-tees and West Lancashire but overall lost control of  three councils and lost over 200 councillors.  But this masks the scale of Labour defeat in places locally like Dacorum in Hemel Hempstead where Labour is down to two seats and the Liberal Democrats down to three, with 46 councillors from the Conservatives.The Liberal Democrats lost another 411 councillors and control of four councils, holding on to South Lakeland, Eastleigh and Eastbourne..

UKIP gained their first council in Thanet  where Nigel Farage was defeated and put on another 176 councillors.This council will become a yardstick on how UKIP run local services.

The Conservative victors have every reason to be apprehensive. Local government has borne a disproportionate share of the cuts under the now departed Eric Pickles and George Osborne is introducing an emergency budget in July. The Treasury often prefer to land local government which supplies personal services with big cuts to spare some of the lobbying from anxious Whitehall departments.

I predict that we are going to see some very radical changes to services. Private companies like Capita must be rubbing their hands with glee and many councils may have to follow the London borough of Barnet and outsource the entire council to private companies. People will soon find out that the only way to contact their council will be by a call centre – if they are lucky in England – but if unlucky in Bangalore or Chennai. The Tory victors could end up being defeated by their own austerity policies.