Were Thursday’s by-elections really such groundbreaking results for UKIP?
In Clacton yesterday, the turnout was just 51% and at Heywood and Middleton it was a paltry 36%. Despite these figures being higher than the usual 30% turnout for by-elections, neither is illustrative of any kind of strong feeling for politics in England. Apathy, in fact, was once again the true winner of the day and the playing field of politics remains as open as before.
Whilst the turnout in the Scottish independence referendum was a staggering 86%, the two by-elections on Thursday did not provide a great deal to write home about. We cannot deny that undoubtedly the combination of both results represent a huge leap forward for UKIP: They gained an impressive 18% swing in Heywood and Middleton and the election of their first Member of Parliament in Clacton but, equally, one could argue that if they hadn’t won there, they won’t win anywhere.
Clacton is an unusual constituency and one where Cliff Richard made his first ever performance. Its residents are primarily older, less well educated and more likely to be unemployed than the national average and these are the very people who UKIP have been able to enthuse with their populist soundbites. It is very easy to scaremonger and promise the earth, after all, when you know you’ll never command a mantle where you’ll have to actually have to deliver.
What is worth noting from both by-elections, however, is that the Liberal Democrats have been confined to the political dustbin for the time being. That they got just 483 votes against UKIP’s 21,113 in Heywood and Middleton speaks volumes and is indicative that they continue on a downward spiral from their trouncing at the European and local elections.
Equally, it wasn’t a great day for Labour despite their win in Heywood and Middleton. To have secured a majority of just 617 in a previously safe seat is certainly not worth celebrating and it shows that Ed Miliband has failed to resonate with the electorate.
For the Conservatives, though, this was the outcome they expected. They knew they’d lose Clacton because of Douglas Carswell’s personal popularity but to have been beaten into third place by UKIP in Heywood and Middleton is a disappointment. David Cameron needs to put his efforts into a win in the Rochester by-election when it comes and given that the appropriately named Mark Reckless lacks the same support as Douglas Carswell, he is certainly more likely to achieve a Conservative hold there.
An hour is a long time in politics and though Nigel Farage is now seizing his fifteen minutes of victory, it may just be that. Blink and the 2015 General Election will be upon us and with it the prolific blogger and jam maker Douglas Carswell will likely find himself on one of Norman Tebbitt’s metaphorical bikes off in the hunt of employment new. It is time to back a Conservative victory.
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