We have a UKIP MP, but what happened in Heywood and Middleton is far more significant

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October 10, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

Clacton by-election

As expected, we wake up this morning with the first UKIP MP elected to the House of Commons. Douglas Carswell actually increased his majority in Clacton-on-sea to 12,404. Meanwhile, in Heywood and Middleton, the expected Labour victory materialized. But it wasn’t as easy as expected, because UKIP came in only 617 votes behind in second place. As I said yesterday – the story wouldn’t be who won, but what happened behind them, and that was certainly so.

First though to Heywood and Middleton. Even though UKIP didn’t win, what happened was, I believe, more significant politically. First of all, the Labour vote increased by 1% – Liz McInnes scraped home but won just about no protest votes about the coalition government. The strategy that Labour have of talking about the NHS – which appears not to have that much salience (actually making a person vote) to voters, whilst ignoring the economy and immigration (both of which have plenty of salience) didn’t seem to work.

Stand in the middle of Heywood during a weekday and you might be able to understand why. 6% of the town are unemployed and claiming benefit. Another 6% of the town are unemployed but not claiming benefit. Meanwhile, another 6% are on disabled or sick pay. That is almost 20% of the town that are economically inactive. Labour doesn’t have an answer for them. They might feign interest in a mansion tax that slaps the rich, but what they really want to know is that, once that money is in, what will it be doing for them? Splurging it all on the NHS, as Miliband promised in his party conference, may not be the answer they are looking for.

Yet, think about that Labour result. UKIP didn’t take any votes from them. Their vote held up. The votes that UKIP got were taken entirely from the Conservatives and the Lib Dems – both of which who managed to lose almost 20% of their vote. It was essentially a classic tactical protest vote at a by-election by Conservative and Lib Dem supporters trying to unseat Labour. People are saying this morning that Labour, if they are going to win next year they need to be taking votes from the Conservatives and from the Lib Dems. If they are not and UKIP are getting them then their rather pathetic strategy of hoping for a counter-attack one goal victory away from home (i.e. just enough votes to gain the most seats in the house under our unbalanced election system) might not work. A question that should be asked in Heywood and Middleton is – how many of those who voted for UKIP were new voters and did anyone actually transfer their vote from Labour to UKIP?

In Clacton, the Conservatives won just 8,000 votes, although it should be pointed out that many Conservative voters WILL have voted UKIP, on the back of their admiration for Mr Carswell. It is important to note that over half of this constituency is aged over 55 so quite simply if Douglas Carswell, the incumbent MP with well known views that chime with that age group, hadn’t won by the amount he did, there would have been questions. Carswell’s victory was the largest by-election gain by any political party, given that UKIP didn’t even stand at the 2010 election against him because he was so much like them. Carswell gave a speech in which he pointed out the importance of UKIP being the party that represents all Britons, including first generation and second generation immigrants. He also pointed out the message that the main Westminster party should be getting from this result, which came in before Heywood and Middleton’s (where the message was much starker). The Lib Dems, as also expected, lost their deposit, losing out to the Greens. In fact, it was spotted that the Green party seems to be where some Lib Dem voters are going now, which could be interesting at the next election.

Anyway, for today, the political colour is purple. What that actually means for the future cannot be foreseen yet, because we still haven’t had a UKIP victory by a “new” candidate (which would include Farage and the likes of Patrick O’Flynn). Onto Rochester and Stroud, where Mark Reckless will possibly have a much harder fight to keep hold of his seat after his defection. Or will he?

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