Barnsley by-election is a triumph for UKIP
• Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724
• Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953
• James Hockney (C) 1,999
• Enis Dalton (BNP) 1,463
• Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266
• Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012
• Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544
• Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198
• Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60
The nation’s media are all leading with the news that the Liberal Democrats have been trounced in the Barnsley Central by-election. It certainly comes as no surprise that Labour retained this seat, with a majority virtually the same as they achieved in last year’s General Election. My, what short memories these Yorkshire folk have: it is as though the Eric Illsley expenses saga and subsequent jailing had never happened, and as though Labour’s almost bankrupting the country and appalling record in government have been forgiven. Barnsley has returned a Labour MP at every general election since 1935: the proverbial donkey-with-a-red-rosette could have won. But the results thereafter are really quite astonishing.
The Liberal Democrats, who came second in this seat under a year ago and used to be the protest-vote darlings of all by-elections, have been shunted into sixth place, behind UKIP, the Conservatives, the BNP (whose vote collapsed) and a local independent (with no party machine). It is bad enough for the Conservatives that they came in 1,000 votes behind UKIP, but for the LibDems to be beaten by the BNP and to lose their deposit is a humiliation for Nick Clegg way beyond ‘a kicking’, as they’re calling it.
The Liberal Democrat vote fell from 6,500 votes to 1,012. This is a total and utter rejection of the present direction of the party, and an unequivocal vote of no confidence in its leadership. It came on the very day that Mr Clegg made his speech on multiculturalism, in which he rowed some distance back from the Prime Minister’s more robust stance, insisting that state multiculturalism is enlightened, wholesome and beneficial.
The people of Barnsley didn’t agree: they are not ‘all in this together’, and couldn’t give a black pudding for the ‘Big Society’. And not only that, some 70 per cent of those eligible to vote simply couldn’t be bothered. That, perhaps, is the most damning indictment on our politics: when only 36.5 per cent can be bothered to register a vote, despite the advent of postal votes ‘to increase voter turnout’, the apathy and indifference of the electorate is manifest and the feeling of impotence quite palpable. The vast majority placed their invisible crosses alongside ‘None of the Above’; a fact which shames our democracy and ought to wipe the smile off the face of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
This is gritty, working-class Yorkshire, where Mr Clegg has his own constituency base in Sheffield Hallam. It may be more affluent than Barnsley Central, but it has a substantial student population who are not likely to be very forgiving of his U-turns on student tuition fees and his unqualified ‘Orange Book’ support for fiscal conservatism. If this is how broken promises and support for cuts play out in a by-election, the forthcoming local elections in May will herald very bad news indeed for Mr Clegg. Indeed, he is not likely to hold Sheffield Hallam at the next general election.
But the real story, ignored by much of the media and downplayed where it is mentioned, is that UKIP came second: that is the real headline. Yes, it’s ‘only a by-election’, and yes, they are usually (ab)used to ‘send a message’ to the party of government, and yes, turnout was low, and yes, one must keep a sense of proportion. But UKIP came second nationally in the elections to the European Parliament in 2009 and gained almost a million votes at the last General Election. For them to come second in this Westminster by-election is a considerable achievement and very worthy of some attention.
If only they could move beyond the single-issue policy perception and the interminable focus on the personality of Nigel Farage.