Friday, July 02, 2021

The nastiest by-election since Bermondsey leaves lessons for all parties to learn

This afternoon the Lib/Dem MP Tim Farron tweeted that "the best entertainment around is watching the hard left being more annoyed that the Tories lost B&S than the Tories are."

I replied "No, Tim, we're just better at hiding it."

Sadly that was one of the few amusing things about an election campaign in which too many people, though not everyone, behaved in ways which I can only describe as a disgrace.

If any of the political parties are complacent about their performance in the Batley & Spen by-election, they should not be.

This should be a wake-up call for all the main parties.

A maverick outsider with no connection to the constituency was able to take 22% of the vote. The campaign was characterised by homophobia, Anti-Semitism, and the weaponisation of sectarian prejudice - and this came from more than one direction. 

Frankly, this by-election shamed British politics and the parties can be categorised into those who should be asking themselves whether they came out soon enough or strongly enough against some of the disgraceful things which have happened in Batley, those who should be asking themselves to what extent they are to blame for fostering sectarianism, and one party - Labour - which should be asking itself both questions. 

Governments do not usually gain seats at by-elections - Copeland and Hartlepool being two very rare exceptions - but the split on the left should have given the Conservatives an excellent chance. There will - and should - be some soul searching about how the Hancock affair was handled and also about whether the standard Conservative by-election playbook, which has chalked up some notable successes elsewhere, was right for this constituency.

Keir Starmer will be pleased to have won and almost certainly staved off what would otherwise have been a leadership challenge, but oppositions which are anywhere near being able to challenge to form a government do not get this close to losing seats to a party which has been in government for eleven years.

The Conservatives would be wise not to assume that Matt Hancock was the only reason for our failure to gain the seat, but one of the ironies of the by-election is that Keir Starmer may have kept his job because of the way Matt Hancock lost his.

However, that isn't the main reason Labour should be deeply ashamed of the way they conducted themselves in this by election: having been on the receiving end of some deplorable tactics does not excuse what they did themselves as I have already written here.

I'm not the biggest fan of disgraced former Labour minister Denis MacShane but he has a good piece on "Ten lessons from Batley and Spen" here.

Spiked Magazine has a collection of good items on the lessons various parties need to learn from the by-election here one of which is expanded here. And there is a good take in the Spectator here.


Jim said...

Here we are again, going though the motions, trying to give some credibility to a broken and bankrupt system.

You know the thing that really surprised me about it was that so many turned out, just under half is reletively high, but then what difference will it really make?

Gary Bullivant said...

Since the system isn't going to change in any big way before the next election.... I wonder if the proposed boundary change for Copeland would make the Liberal Democrats the progressive left choice for those drawn towards tactical voting, with or without Tim Farron.

Chris Whiteside said...

I'm a little surprised by that response, Jim.

Astonished, in fact, that you would think that if I was trying to "give some credibility to a broken and bankrupt system" I would write things like "this by-election shamed British politics"

If I'm trying to defend something I usually use words just a teeny-weeny bit more positive than that.

Gary, Tim Farron has made pretty clear his intention to start for the new seat which includes Penrith and Kendal.

It's almost inevitable that such a seat, the one currently proposed or one fairly like it, will be created because the maths required to equalise constituency electorates simply do not leave any realistic alternative but to carve up Farron's present Westmorland & Lonsdale seat.

I expect a battle royal, however about how to carve up the rest of Cumbria. My personal opinion is that the BCE proposals, while not perfect, are the least worst way to do it in present circumstances. I fully expect the Labour party to try to get some representation back in Cumbria by proposing a Whitehaven and Workington seat of some kind.

I think we can start assessing who is likely to want to vote for what when we find out what the new constituencies actually are.

On the West coast of Cumbria you have the pro-nuclear left and the pro-nuclear right, both of whom also support the mine, with Greens, Lib/Dems and the anti-nuclear left not usually reaching 10% of the vote between them.

In fact, although the local Lib/Dems in Copeland are perceived by the local electorate as anti-nuclear because of the position their party takes elsewhere and lose out as a result, most of the Copeland and Allerdale Lib/Dems with whom I have discussed the matter were not opposed to either the nuclear industry or the mine.

Frank Hollowell and Rebecca Hanson both supported the nuclear industry and Rebecca Hanson copied me in on a robust defence of the original CCC decision to grant planning permission for the mine which she wrote in reply to the letters county councillors received from protestors.

However, further east in the county both the Lib/Dems and the anti-nuclear/Green perspective is more common. It is almost certain that if Copeland remains the basis for a parliamentary seat, it will have to take in some people who have that perspective. So the seat might have a larger Lib/Dem vote.

Obviously I neither share that view of the world nor regard it as "progressive" but I can certainly understand why those who do would rather vote Lib/Dem than Labour.

Tim said...

Maybe if the Conservative candidate had spoken up for the teacher who is still hiding in fear for his life the result would have been different. Instead he just parroted the same answer as the execrable Labour candidate who told us without a trace of irony that 'it's up to the teacher when he returns to work' in other words it's up to the teacher to choose the moment he gets beheaded.

Jim said...

I didn't mean you were giving it credit, I meant having a by election to electanother out of touch mp is trying to give credit to a broken system. Representative democracy isn't democracy and is broken.

The fact your blog post recognises that is to your credit and fwiw I agree with you.

Gary Bullivant said...

To be clear I agree that there will be resistance from Labour to the BC proposal and for the reason you suggest, so there won't be an early public engagement on a carve up from them. But the electorate have a big say too on the day and if the proposal is accepted lots of people will, on my reading of current sentiment post Amersham and Spen, be seriously looking at how to make their vote count. Trudy's local and nuclear credentials are impeccable but Cumbria is a relatively recent confection and they are not likely to carry much weight in Windermere and Ambleside. Trudy has also hitched herself to Boris's wagon and must be hoping that no (more?)wheels come off it before the next election.

Thank you for the insight on the views of the local LDs. It rather confirms me in my view that LDs will be in for a shout as the main opposition in an expanded Copeland, particularly if they can put up an equally charismatic candidate. I expect the mine will no longer be an issue by then but who knows?

Chris Whiteside said...

Ok, there are certainly some interesting points there. Thank you for the clarification, Jim.

The central party machines in all the major parties have increasingly over the last few years imposed iron message discipline on candidates and local activists during by-elections. I personally think this is understandable and justifiable up to a point but it is possible to over-do it and I suspect one of the things which contributed to some of the problems I was referring to in my original piece is that in Batley and Spen, in my humble opinion, the parties did exactly that.

I am very unhappy about some of the Labour tactics in the seat but I have tried to avoid assuming that their candidate was to blame for all those tactics - frankly I would not put it past the national Labour machine to have ordered and implemented some of them without even consulting their own candidate.

Similarly, although I think the Conservatives need to learn lessons from the by-election, I would hate to see our candidate Ryan Stephenson made the scapegoat. That would be most unfair. I note by the way that Jo Cox's widower - the brother-in-law of the successful Labour candidate - publicly thanked Ryan for fighting a decent campaign. I suspect that tells you where Labour think the nastiness was and wasn't coming from.

I do not believe that the outsiders who were responsible for a lot of the nastiness spoke for the ordinary decent Muslim community in Batley and Spen and it ought to be possible to condemn homophobia, Anti-Semitism, bullying, and threats to the life of the Batley Grammar School teacher - and Gavin Williamson did condemn them, by the way - without stirring up Anti-Muslim prejudice or being seen to do so.

Chris Whiteside said...

Cumbria, by the way, is a product of the 1974 local government reorganisation.

There is therefore some amusement value in an authority which goes back 47 years or so being described as "relatively recent" though in comparison to most English counties Gary is right.

I think I posted on another thread that the BCE has a good record of listening to public concerns and paying them more attention than the views of any of the political parties so anyone who has strong views on what the boundaries should be, make them known.

Tim said...

So when is the teacher returning to work at the school?

Chris Whiteside said...

I presume that is a rhetorical question, Tim.

The fact that he does not feel safe to do so says something worrying and I wish there was an easy answer to it. I don't believe there is.