Sadly comments on the result of our Batley and Spen by-election, even from the Labour Party, stress the narrowness of their win rather than the glaring failure of the Tories to take the seat, which they were widely predicted to do.
Labour had two massive obstacles to overcome. First, the Conservative vote in 2019 was reduced by the presence on the ballot paper of a right wing so-called Heavy Woollen District candidate, Paul Halloran who attracted 6 439 votes (12.2%). When it was announced that Halloran had decided (been persuaded?) not to stand in the by-election "progressive" hearts sank: without him to split their vote the Tories were almost bound to win.
Then in addition the maverick former Labour MP George Galloway entered the fray for the so called "Workers' Party, thus potentially splitting the Labour vote.
Labour had not one but two obstacles to overcome, two mountains to climb.
In these circumstances it is astonishing that the Tories failed to take the seat. That is what, in my view, should be in the headlines
In last Saturday's Guardian the normally perceptive Jonathan Freedman claimed that "Batley and Spen saw a 2.9% swing away from Labour and towards the Conservatives, the largest swing to a govenmt party in 39 years" (My emphasis). This, if technically correct, is highly misleading.
In fact their percentage share of the vote fell for both Labour (-7.4 percentage points) and Conservatives (-1.6). This was presumably largely due to the presence of no less than 14 other candidates. Interestingly the Conservatives do no seem to have benefited much from Halloran's 6000+ votes.
The alleged 2.9% "Swing" is calculated by taking the difference between the two changes in share of the vote (7.4 - 1.6 = 5.8) and dividing it by 2 (=2.9 ). The impression that 2.9% of voters switched from Labour to Conservative may have made sense in the 1950s and the days of "two horse races" and Peter Snow's "swingometer."
It makes no sense in a multiparty contest in which increases and decreases in major parties' shares are likely to be the result of shifts to other parties rather than direct swaps between the two major parties.
The real message of the Batley and Spen by-election is a major Conservative failure to win a contest weighted in their favour. Together with the massive Liberal Democrat victory in Chesham and Amersham, it is another sign that Mr Johnson's Teflon carapace is not impregnable.
Labour: 13 296 35.3%
Conservative 12 973 34.4%
G Galloway 8 264 21.9%
Liberal Dem 1 254 3.3%
12 others 1 898
As explained in the previous post, a Tory win would have been regarded as an endorsement of Mr Johnson's untruthful, self serving and incompetent govenmt, so this Labour win promotes a sigh of relief. Congratulations to our new MP, Kim Leadbeater.
So far (06h42) the comments on the news bulletins I've heard have concentrate on the narrowness of the Labour majority. More significant, I think, is the smallness, 34.4%, of the Conservative share of the vote in an election they were widely predicted to win.
it's a fair bet that most of spoiler George Galloway's vote, let's say two thirds, would without him have gone to Labour, which would have had the Labour vote pushing 20 000, and a substantial majority..
The Liberal vote is derisory but not quite so small as the Labour vote in Chesham and Amersham, (622, 1.6%,) which is some consolation. Clearly Labour voters in that election and Liberal Democrat voters in this have voted tactically for their second choices, effectively supporting the "progressive alliance" our leaders are so reluctant to create formally.
As I write this the by-election in Batley and Spen, where I live, is taking place but I shall not publish this post until the polls close. I fear that if the Conservatives take the seat this will be regraded as an endorsement of the Johnson Government, the most incompetent and dishonest of my lifetime at least, and probably ever. So I do not want to publish anything that contd be used as ammunition to hamper Labour's holding on to the seat.
However I believe the circumstances that have led to the by-election have involved an outrageous abuse of our democratic system, first by the former Labour MP, Tracy Brabin, and then by the Labour Party itself.
M/s Brabin was chosen to inherit" the seat in 2016, unopposed by the major parties, after the murder of the existing MP, Jo Cox. She held the seat in the General Election in December 2019 with a majority of some 3 000. I have not kept any of her election literature but I'm sure she promised us that, if elected, she would devote her entire thoughts and energies to the welfare of us residents of Batley and Spen, leaving us to assume that this would be for the entire parliament, and probably beyond.
However, less than 15 months later Ms Brabin decided she would prefer another post, the Mayor of West Yorkshire. One Labour source suggests that her motive in doing so was that she was
miffed at not being retained on the Labour front bench as shadow spokesperson for the
Arts. She made this choice knowing full well that if she were elected she would have to to resign as our MP, as the rules state that both posts can not be held by one and the same person.
In selecting M/s Brabin as their candidate for the election of West Yorkshire Mayor the regional Labour Party, or whoever is responsible, also showed how lightly they regard the promises made by their candidates in elections. They knew full well that if she succeeded in the mayoral election that would triger a by-election.
Surely the West Yorkshire Labour party is not so devoid of talent that there is no one else capable of being mayor (which is in any case a pots with very few powers).
According to this website
the average cost to the public purse of a by-election is around a quarter of a million pounds. Whether this has to be paid by Kirklees, our local authority which runs the election, or is paid by the Treasury I don't know, but it is a lot of public money. The precise figure is £239 529 and was calculated in 2014, so is probably somewhat over a quarter of a million now. Just over half of it is for the conduct of the poll (polling stations, postal votes,the count) and the rest is for the Freepost to which all candidates are entitled. With 16 candidates in this election, that proportion is probably more than half.
That is a great deal of public money to be squandered just to facilitate a career move for Tracy Brabin. However, if she were to contribute the excess of her mayoral salary of £105 000 a year over her MP's salary of £81 932 she could pay it off in 10 years or so..
Peanuts i know compared with the public money flung around by the Conservatives to their cronies, but still an abuse.
The discovery of Health Secretary Matt Hancock who has spent the last fifteen months urging us to keep two metres social distance from others, even grandchildren, in a clinch with a member of his department was an opportunity for Hancock and the Prime Minster to show there was still some understanding of common decency at the top of the Government.
It would have been honourable if Hancock, "caught bang-to-rigths, Guv" had resigned at once rather than waiting 24 hours for pressure from Tory party members and MPs to recognise that his continuation in the job was untenable.
As he did not do so, Prime Minister Johnson could have shown qualities of leadership by sacking him at once, or demanding his resignation if that;s the way they do things. Instead Mr Johnson, presumably believing that his Teflon carapace was still in place, accepted an apology from Hancock and "declared the matter closed."
The Tories talk a great deal about pride in Britain, but as a political society we have little to be proud of.
Post Script (added 2th June) It was mentioned on the Radio 4 News Review this morning that one of the newspapers reports that Hancock may revive £16 000 "severance pay" as a result of his forced resignation. That's just slightly more than a person would receive before tax for working 35 hours a week for a year on the minimum wage. The entitled certainly.have things skewed in their favour.
In 1962 the Liberal victory in Orpington rescued the party from near extinction (2.5% of the national vote and only 6MPs in 1951) to being once again a recognisable force in British politics. Our candidate Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14 000 to win with a Liberal majority of nearly 8 000. From then on, albeit in fits and starts, the Liberals/Liberal Democrats gradually increased our representation until in 2010 we achieved 23% of the national vote, 57 MPs, and formed part of the government.
Then, through inadequate coalition arrangements and being outmanoeuvred by the Troy wiles, we blew it. In the next election of 2015 we were reduced to less than 8% of the national vote and only 8 MPs. Not quite back to square one, but not far off.
The figures for the Chesham and Amersham by election, held yesterday, are remarkably similar to Orpington. Our candidate Sarah Green, with 56.7% of the vote, turned a Tory majority of 16 000 and into a Liberal Democrat majority of just over 8 000.
It would be a nonsense to extrapolate this result to the whole of the country in a general election, but in my view its significance is two-fold:
1. It cements the position our leader Sir Ed Davey. Any murmurings within the party about his less than charismatic impact on the electorate will be silenced. More importantly the media, in spite of his efforts, have more or less ignored him, and therefore us, since his election as leader. Now I suspect they will take more notice of us as serious contenders with political ideas and eventually power to implement them.
2. This by-election victory is the first serious crack in the Teflon-type coating which has protected the Tories since Mr Johnson became leader. Astonishingly, in spite of proven lies, dubious constitutional manoeuvrings and incompetence he and they have continued to ride high in the opinion polls. Serious commentators on politics have long argued that this could not possibly last.
True there have been a few fissures in the carapace. They did not do as well in the recent local elections as it appeared: their poor performance was obscured by the media's attention to their victory in Labour's former stronghold of Hartlepool.
But this by-election could be the start of return to sense in British politics.
Orpington to government took nearly half a century (48 year to be precise). Let's hope it doesn't take as long this time
Way back in 2018 historian Peter Hennessey described Britain's uncodified constitution as the '"Good Chap" theory of government,' and lamented its rapid erosion.
Some say the British don't have a constitution: " We just make it up as we go along."
It is true that we do not have a single document in which the rules for government are set out. Instead we have a mixture of historic documents (eg Magna Carta,) significant legislation (eg the Bill of Rights 1689, the Reform Acts,) Common Law, judicial decisions (declaring the prorogation of parliament in 2019 to be illegal) and precedents, parliamentary rules (Erskine May) and a whole host of customs and conventions.
None of these are "set in stone" and, as Hennessey pointed out, their smooth working relies on our governments to be composed of "good chaps (and,these days, lasses)" prepared to act decently and in accordance with the established norms.
I don't suppose the erosion of the system began with the Brexit vote, but it has certainly progressed rapidly since. Mrs May, for example, tried to exclude parliament from any say in the implementation of Brexit, Mr Johnson tried to stifle criticism of its implementation by proroguing parliament, and now, after threatening to break international law, blatantly proposes to renege on a treaty (the Irish Protocol) which he himself signed not eighteen months ago.
"Good Chaps" seem to have faded from the scene.
The latest deviation for accepted behaviour may seem trivial but cold have serous consequences.
The "Ministerial Code," which Johnson has signed, and to which he wrote a foreword, stipulates that "[T]he most important announcements of government policy should be made , in the first instance, in parliament." Yet on Monday Johnsen himself announced the postponement of the end of the lockdown restriction by a month, not to parliament, but to the press at 6pm.
The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has protested. Can he do more?
The press can , of course ask questions, but at a press conference the questioners are selected by whoever is giving the information Reporters represent their probably biassed (if News GB certainly biassed) organisations rather the public, and are all too easy to fob off.
In parliament it is the Speaker who chooses the questioners, and they are , however imperfectly elected, representatives of us, the people.
At the moment I am reading a description by a Christabel Bielenberg, the Anglo Irish-born wife of one of the plotters against Hitler, of life in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.
Yes, I know, comparisons are far-fetched. We are still a long way form storm troopers and whoever needs to quote Hitler has usually lost the argument.
But there are parallels, and this shameless government is dipping it toes in dangerous waters.
Come back the "good chap (and lasses.)"