After two more by-elections, in Heywood and Middleton and Clacton, has come the usual deluge of punditry. And, given the right-leaning bias of the press and its hangers-on, there are plenty out there this morning who have looked at the Tories losing Clacton, and Labour holding Heywood and Middleton, and concluded that the party leader in trouble is Mil The Younger.
It’s true that Labour’s increase in vote share in the Greater Manchester seat was less than 1%, and that Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP came within 600 votes of taking the seat, but in our First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system, the result is no different than at the 2010 General Election: it counts as one Labour seat. End of story.
Moreover, the apparent switching of some who voted Lib Dem in 2010 – the party’s vote collapsed in Heywood and Middleton – to UKIP would be, shall we say, difficult to reproduce next May. The Tories might expect to do better too – their vote share was way down on 2010. The Kippers cannot expect to do nearly as well at a General Election – but that isn’t the case in Clacton.
Here, Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell increased his own vote share and the Lib Dems were all but wiped out (they came fifth and lost their deposit). The Tories will expect to do a lot better next May, but you would not bet against Carswell holding a seat where he has a significant personal vote. The turnout in Clacton – 51% as opposed to a miserable 36% in Heywood and Middleton – was more representative, too.
All of which would still see the Tories losing one and Labour holding one. So, it has to be asked of The Usual Suspects who this morning are trotting out their usual “Disaster For Flailing Miliband” drivel: what part of this electoral arithmetic do you not understand? Turnout is going to be higher next May, UKIP will have to spread its resources more thinly, and we’re still operating under FPTP.
The Farage fringe has not yet secured a significant defection from Labour. It has done so from the Tories. UKIP has now taken a previously safe Tory seat, albeit in contrived circumstances. Should it also take Rochester and Strood, where Mark Reckless has also defected to Mr Thirsty’s party, that will be another Tory seat lost. If the right-leaning vote there splits and Labour gets in, it’s even worse for the Tories.
So far, all the downsides have accrued to the Tories, and none to Labour. Last night’s scenarios played out around the UK would see the Tories lose seats, while Labour would hold those they already have, and pick up yet more from the Lib Dems and where the Tories and UKIP split the right-leaning vote. Miliband would be home and dry – and probably with a Parliamentary majority.
I agree with my good friend John Band – you pundits are looking the wrong way.