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.


  1. Thank you for an interesting insight into what went on in this by-election.

    It has, however, broken with years of tradition of contested by-elections in the case of an MP being murdered. There are many historical precedents. There was Brighton Bomb victim Anthony Berry. Michael Portillo won the contested Enfield by-election that followed. But perhaps more famously in Liberal Democrat circles, there was the Eastbourne by-election caused by the death of Ian Gow due to an IRA car bomb. Back then in 1990, the Liberal Democrats as a new party had just emerged from a struggle for survival against the rump SDP. After a disastrous Euro election campaign the previous year, in which the new party had fallen behind the greens, morale was low. The result was a stunning victory for David Bellotti and a much needed morale boost. It set the start of a pattern of by-election shock wins that would last a decade and a half until the beginning of the Clegg era.

    The view then had been that politicians can be murdered but democracy must live on. The lack of a contest in Batley ran the risk of a right wing fringe party gaining momentum and a large share of the vote. That they didn't was due to there being too many such parties, which was in turn, down to luck rather than design. A high turn out due to the voters thinking they had something to vote for in a proper contest would have been a more fitting tribute to Ms Cox. It may even have put Tracy Brabin under pressure to reveal some policy positions. Your description of the recent by-election in Batley serves to confirm in my mind that the tradition of contested by-elections in the event of such tragedies is the right one and we should return to it.

    1. Thanks for that, and the reminders of the precedents, especially those in which the Liberals participated.

      Your position is very similar to that put forward by one of the the Independent candidates, Henry Mayhew - the only one with an address in the constituency, and he had his leaflet printed here as well.

      Both of you have a point. I hope the circumstances will not rise again, either here or anywhere else, but if they do it is certainly something for the parties to think about.