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November 30, 2012 / ultrafox1963

Labour dodge bullet as UKIP hammer Tories

Rotherham's new MP - A Champion in both name and performance

Rotherham’s new MP – a Champion in both name and performance

Yesterday was a particularly troubled day for the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, both inside and outside Parliament.

The Leveson report, whose contents and recommendations exposed deep and damaging splits between and within the parties, inevitably claimed much of the limelight.

However, outside the Westminster and media bubble, voters in three by-elections delivered damning indictments of the parties’ dismal record of government.

All three seats delivered solid Labour majorities, despite forecasts by many online pundits, and sections of the mainstream media, that Ed Miliband’s party would face a serious threat in at least one of them.

Much of this frenzy focused on Rotherham, where incumbent MP Denis MacShane had been forced to resign following the latest instalment in the ongoing parliamentary expenses scandal.

With the record of the local Labour-controlled council, especially in relation to child protection issues, also attracting fierce criticism, opposing parties scented blood.

In addition, Miliband’s handling of the candidate selection process had been far from unblemished. Two local figures with significant community support were excluded from the shortlist presented to party members at the selection meeting. This prompted a mass walkout and subsequent fears, both within and outside the constituency, that the control-freak tendencies within the party had not entirely disappeared.

Nevertherless, Sarah Champion, who had emerged from the fiasco as the party’s flagbearer, proved her credibility to the Rotherham electorate in no uncertain terms, withstanding the assault by no fewer than ten opposition candidates to secure an increased Labour share of the vote. She was elected as MacShane’s successor with a majority of over 5000.

Tory candidate Simon Wilson had the distinction of being the highest-placed male candidate, but could only manage fifth place overall, behind Labour, UKIP, the BNP and Respect.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat Michael Beckett fared even worse, finishing an humiliating eighth with just TWO per cent vote (and a lost deposit) in a seat where the party had come within 300 votes of 2nd place in 2010.

This collapse in the vote in South Yorkshire followed the party’s pitiful showing in the area’s recent election for police and crime commissioner. LibDem leader Nick Clegg, an MP in nearby Sheffield, will be particularly perturbed, and must ponder the potential threat to his own seat.

The anti-government mood was also in evidence further north in Middlesbrough, where Labour’s Andy McDonald was elected with a majority of 8000, and a 12% swing away from the LibDems, the nearest challengers in 2010.

Here, too, UKIP made significant ground, overtaking both the Tories and LibDems to claim 2nd place. The performance of the Tory candidate for the constituency was so poor that he finished a mere three votes ahead of the miniscule and hitherto unrecognised Peace Party.

The reduction of the governing party to near-cult status in the north of England plumbs a depth not even reached during the darkest days of the Thatcher era. It will do nothing to dispel doubts about David Cameron’s ability to deal with discontent within Tory ranks.

The third by-election of the day, in Croydon, provided crumbs of comfort for the prime minister as his party at least managed to retain second place behind Labour. One factor that may have assisted the Tories in the south London constituency was the eccentric behaviour of UKIP candidate Winston McKenzie, whose homophobic rants undermined his party’s efforts, at both local and national level, to portray itself as a credible mainstream alternative.

With seasonal factors helping to keep turnout low, the blows dealt to the coalition by these results are far from terminal. But they indicate Miliband’s message of “one nation” Labour is enhancing his status as a national leader in waiting.

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