Guest-poster Roger McCarthy did some canvassing for Labour in Eastleigh last week and is active in a not dissimilar southern seat:
1. UKIP’s breakthrough
First and foremost UKIP bucked a very clear general election trend of right-wing voters only giving them a significant (say 10%+ rather than <3%) share in seats where the MP (of whatever party) is so safe that a protest vote can be delivered without endangering the Tory’s chance of winning.
Now while Eastleigh is UKIP’s best parliamentary result ever it is presaged by previous recent by-elections where right-wing voters have deserted Conservative candidates for UKIP in significant numbers across multiple types of seats gaining 21.7% in Rotherham (safe Labour), 14.3% in Corby (Tory-Lab marginal) and 12.2% in Barnsley Central (very safe Labour), 11.8% in Middlesbrough (safe Labour)
Having said this they did not do anywhere near as well in Oldham (5.8%), Leicester South (2.9%), Manchester Central (4.5%), Feltham (5.5%) Bradford West (3.3%) or Croydon North (5.7%) all of which were safe Labour seats.
(there is probably also a strong correlation with ethnicity as well with UKIP doing – surprise, surprise – well only in very white constituencies and failing in those with significant BAME populations – even when as in Leicester and Croydon they somehow managed to rustle up an Asian or Black candidate themselves).
This brings out an interesting anomaly that of a historically very high 15 by-elections in just this first half of a parliament only one has been in a Conservative-held seat and 11 were in Labour-held seats (in comparison there were 14 by-elections over the whole 2005-10 parliament of which 3 were in Tory seats)
So we are not being given a real chance to see how deep UKIPs new found support is in Conservative and Conservative-targeted marginals as only two of the 15 by-elections have been in seats where the Tory had any chance of winning.
But with that note of caution this does raise the interesting possibility that the constant obsessive propaganda on immigration by the right wing media may have finally created a right-wing populist monster which they no longer can properly control electorally and that as has happened with the Tea Party in the US there are now significant numbers of right-wing voters so lost to elementary logic and reason that they will throw winnable elections rather than support candidates who are not right wing enough for them.
And as the only way the Tories can control immigration and give the base what they crave is by leaving he EU and this is not at all on the agenda of global capital this may create a UKIP threat which just could lose them the next election by splitting the right-wing vote in their target seats.
2. The Lib Dems hang on by their fingernails
Again the result seems to show a general and under-reported trend that the Lib Dem collapse in national polls is not being reproduced in those areas where they actually hold parliamentary seats and control councils – and that while they lost a great many votes in Eastleigh this time there are still people (and we met them on the doorstep) who believe that the Lib Dems are a restraining force on the Tories and cannot be persuaded otherwise despite all the evidence that the Tories have got through every single important item from their manifesto.
And we can’t discount the Lib Dem machine in their seats – clearly they were out in force and seem to have been particularly good at collecting postal votes and that these pushed them through the final barrier,
3. Labour disappointment
Increasing the historically very poor 2010 result by 0.2% to 9.8% is of course a real disappointment for Labour as people in the campaign office genuinely believed that they could raise it significantly toward the 1997-2005 levels of 20% and local polls all showed us doing somewhat (although not that much better) than we did on the night.
And we did run a serious campaign with an excellent candidate (Whatever one thinks of John O’Farrell’s New Labour politics he clearly was by far the brightest and most personable of the candidates) many MP and front-bench visits, hundreds of volunteers and 20,000 voter ID visits – a level of activity which compares favourably with that we put into key marginals and which seems to have been almost entirely wasted and goes some way to validating the views of Miliband-haters like Dan Hodges that we should have run no more than a token campaign.
But under this was a complete absence of any real Labour party on the ground – with just 158 members in summer 2010 (the last date for which CLP membership is available), Eastleigh was the 534th smallest CLP in the UK and they really cannot have had much more than a dozen or so even semi-active members before region and national HQ started busing in volunteers.
And like my CLP they have no councillors even in deprived urban wards (and Eastleigh has them with much of the town centre being visibly run-down) which should have vote Labour and this is a huge handicap on the doorstep – while the Lib Dems have 40 out of 44 borough seats (with the Tories holding the remaining 4).
On the plus side they were close to two of the exactly 4 Labour-held seats in the South East region and which do have active and effective CLPs – but Southampton activists are unlikely to have had much more grasp of local issues than those of us who came from further afield.
4. So much for the NHA…
This was the first real test for National Health Action which was rewarded with just 392 votes or under 1% and shows them to yet another clown party which has zero real support and if it did could only threaten Labour.
But even this was better than the wretched Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate who got just 62 votes and was soundly beaten by three genuine clown parties.