This blog has often passed adverse comment on Dan Hodges as he keeps on finding fault with Mil The Younger, only for the Labour leader to strengthen his position in the party as he selects the right battles to fight, and invariably wins them. But in the aftermath of the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election yesterday, Hodges has read the runes correctly: UKIP are not a threat to Labour.
Sure, Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers will spin their second place as evidence that they are now a serious force in politics. But the numbers show that this claim is a sham: Mike Kane took the seat for Labour with a vote share of over 55%. UKIP’s John Bickley took less than 18%. Farage and his fringe were not a threat at any stage of the campaign.
As I keep stressing when these contests come round, being a distant second is no use in a system that only rewards the candidate that comes first. UKIP are a very, very long way from achieving their “Orpington Moment” (for those unfamiliar with the parallel, this was the 1962 by-election when Eric Lubbock won for the Liberals. He held on to the seat in the two following General Elections).
Hodges was unimpressed with the UKIP excuses: “The narrative that Ukip is as much of a threat to Labour as it is to the Conservative Party is rubbish”. Indeed: no doubt a few protest votes will peel off at by-elections, but the serious abstraction of numbers is from the Tories. Worse, UKIP were taking their anti-immigrant wagon to a constituency with a negligible eastern European population.
The result was that Farage and his pals were left with those who switched from the Lib Dems – their vote is proving soft across the North West – and some former Tory supporters. Without all the attention that a by-election brings, UKIP won’t manage anything like last night’s result next year. The whingeing over postal votes only goes to show that the party knows that – and that it has no excuses left.
As Hodges put it, “this was a midterm by-election, and one with a shockingly low turnout. If ever a minor party was going to cause an upset it was here. But instead of giving Ed Miliband nightmares, Ukip’s paper campaign allowed him to retire before the counting of the ballots even began”. That turnout was just over 28% - the kind of level where upsets can happen.
Hodges sums up UKIP well: “They do not have anything resembling a national organisation. They have no coherent national message beyond ‘keep out the immigrants’ ... they have zero prospect of returning a single member of parliament at a general election. It’s time to stop referring to Ukip as if they are a distinct national party ... They’re just a group of angry former Conservatives”.
Some say the UKIP bubble has not yet burst. I wouldn’t be too sure about that.