Monday, 24 October 2016
Batley and Spen by-election
Last Thursday we had a parliamentary by-election in my home constituency of Batley and Spen. This was to replace our Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered last June. Out of respect for Mrs Cox, and acknowledging that for this parliament anyway, or unless there was a vacancy for a "normal " reason, the replacement MP should be Labour, we Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, Greens and UKIP decided not to field candidates. That didn't stop nine others, mostly right-wing minorities or independents, taking advantage of the free leaflet delivery to flaunt their creeds.
Top of the ballot paper was Mr, Mrs or Ms Corbyn Anti. Since on ballot papers surnames come first she/he therefore came across as Anti Corbyn. How he or she managed this I don't know. I'm reminded of a Liberal candidate, Frank Davies who, in the days before party affiliations were allowed on ballot papers, added "Liberal" to his forename by deed poll. So this appeared on the ballot papers as Davies, Frank Liberal. As far as I can remember he didn't win, but his ploy was a significant part of the eventually successful campaign to permit party affiliations on the ballot paper. What Mr Mrs of M/s Anti's policies were other than to be against Mr Corbyn I don't know as I received no leaflet from him/her
Nearly all the others sent literature, all were in favour of "motherhood and apple pie" issues such as supporting the local hospital, the NHS and being a "strong voice for the constituency" (though most of them lived somewhere else), and most wanted to stop immigration, even ALL (sic) immigration.
The one exception was an Independent, Henry Mayhew, who stood "4democracy" and felt that the people of the constituency should have a choice other than "Mr Corbyn's Labour." He was the only one to put a local address on the ballot paper. Most identified only an "address in the xxxxx constituency." Things have changed since my day, when a specific address was compulsory. Perhaps today they're afraid of having their privacy invaded, or worse, by demonstrators.
The best performing "other" was the English Democrat with 969 votes, not quite enough to save her £500 deposit. Third was the BNP with 584 votes, way below the 5% deposit-saving level, and all the others were even further below. The national Front managed only 87 votes.
Nevertheless it is disturbing that in our constituency a total of 2 646 people gave their votes to no-hope far right candidates in an election which many regarded as an opportunity to show respect to the memory and idealism of Jo Cox, and the proper, decent and non-violent conduct of politics. It is also rather sad that, in in contrast to the outpouring of emotion when Mrs Cox was killed only 25.78% of those entitled to make such a gesture bothered to do so.
The Labour winner with 85% of the vote was Tracy Brabin, an actress who is well known as having appeared in several soap operas on television. She is, like Jo Cox, locally born and bred and her literature, of which I've seen three different leaflets, is almost entirely devoted to details of her career and the names and pictures of local people who are gong to support her. There is little about her, or Labour's, policies, other than that she will protect services at the local hospital, ensure every single young person has "the best possible education and life chances" (a tall order), hold the government to account and"back our local police" - (who wouldn't?)
Does she back Corbyn or will she join the dissidents; is she keen on the closest possible relations with the EU, maybe even wanting to Remain, or is she inclined to be a Brexiteer; is she in favour of or against the replacement of Trident; will she raise taxes in order to support the local hospital and the rest of the NHS; how about fracking, HS2, renewable energy, renationalising the railways?
She can't be too concerned about supporting local industry as two of her her leaflets were printed in Cardiff and the third in Manchester. I also noted that her address on the ballot paper was "in the Chipping Barnet constituency" which sounds too close to Chipping Norton for comfort.
I know that normal party conflict was suspended for this by-election and support that decision, but a valuable opportunity for political education has been lost.
If mainstream politicians are wary of declaring their policies for fear of frightening off some people then the extremists will flourish.