Richard Willis's Blog

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The Conservative Newark By-Election Triumph

Polling StationYesterday we had the Newark Parliamentary by-election. By-elections can be unpredictable affairs but two things are usually certain:

1.  Governments usually get a kicking (Conservative-led Governments especially)

2.  An effective party of opposition usually makes significant gains and often takes seats off the Government of the day

At this stage in the Parliament and in a seat which Labour held from 1997 to 2001 (albeit on slightly different boundaries), it was reasonable to expect that Labour would be looking to take Newark from the Conservatives if they wanted to be in with a chance of winning next year’s General Election. After all the last time a Conservative Government won a by-election in one of its own seats was as far back as 1989! Labour ran a lack-lustre campaign almost as though they hoped that UKIP would beat the Conservatives to set up trouble in Cameron’s party.

The Conservatives surprised commentators by running a high energy and very effective campaign. Large numbers of young and enthusiastic  Conservative supporters were bussed in from around the country and MPs and candidates were strong-armed to support the campaign. This is something which I had been advocating ten years ago to senior party officials to no avail. Party Chairman Grant Shapps put hundreds of experienced and motivated activists onto the streets of the constituency and this was reflected in surveys which showed that more people had received a leaflet, a telephone call or a knock on their door from the Conservatives than any other party.

Much has been made of UKIP’s gains in recent local Council elections but in reality they have been small and not led to control of a single higher tier local authority. What UKIP really needs is to gain a Westminster seat. They came close in Eastleigh against the depleted Lib Dems and there was some talk that they could take Newark. The climate was right for them, the by-election followed hot on the heels of UKIP’s Euro-election success and it was caused by a Conservative MP resigning under a cloud. At the beginning of the campaign UKIP were ramping their chances with talk of a “volcano” following on from the claimed “earthquake” of the Euro-elections. When the veteran MEP Roger Helmer was chosen as the UKIP candidate expectations dimmed slightly but we still had claims of the by-election being “neck and neck”. I was watching the live coverage in the early hours of this morning when Nigel Farage conceded the seat but stated that UKIP were “2-3,000” votes behind the Conservatives, that UKIP had gained “over 30% of the vote”, and that this was “UKIP’s best result ever”.

So what were the results? Here they are:

Jenrick (Conservative) – 17,431 (44.9%)

Helmer (UKIP) – 10,028 (25.8%)

Payne (Labour) – 6,842 (17.6%)

Baggaley (Ind) 1,891 (4.89%)

Kirwan (Green) 1,057 (2.73%)

Watts (Lib Dem) – 1,004 (2.6%)

Nick The Flying Brick (Loony) – 168 (0.4%)

Hayes (Ind) – 117 (0.3%)

Bishop (BP Elvis) – 87 (0.2%)

Rodgers (Stop Banks) – 64 (0.2%)

Woods (Pat Soc) – 18 (0.05%)

Conservative majority – 7,403 (19.1%)

Turnout – 52.8%

UKIP’s hype was massively over-blown and Farage was left looking ridiculous when the Conservative majority over UKIP turned out to be almost three times his claim and close to 20%! UKIP also failed to get the 30%+ share Farage had so confidently claimed. UKIP’s vote share was also LESS than it gained in Eastleigh making it a hat-trick of false claims! Today Farage has vanished and even cancelled a planned photo-call in the town square.

And what about the Lib Dems? They used to be past-masters of Parliamentary by-elections, winning seats from Labour and Conservative with huge swings all across the UK. 20 years ago they would have relished a contest in a seat like Newark. However, since entering coalition with the Conservatives the Lib Dems are a shadow of their former selves. They have lost two-thirds of their 2010 support and seemingly their “mojo” with it. In 2010 they managed just over 10,000 votes in Newark. This time they plunged to sixth place, losing their deposit with 2.6% behind the Green Party and an Independent. They did however manage to beat “Nick the Flying Brick” the Loony Party candidate! I won’t gloat too much because it seems quite likely that some Lib Dem supporters voted tactically for the Conservatives in order to keep UKIP out.

A few by-elections are defining moments in British politics. This one may be just such a by-election. With the development of anti-UKIP tactical voting and the apparent willingness of some Lib Dem voters to back the Conservatives, the prospects for 2015 suddenly look much brighter for David Cameron.

It may be the moment that UKIP was shown to have passed its peak and the Conservatives charted the course to victory in the 2015 General Election.

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June 6, 2014 - Posted by | National

3 Comments »

  1. Despite the intensive campaign ordered by David Cameron, the Conservative majority was reduced from 16,000 to 7,400. How is that a triumph? Cameron is obviously scared stiff of UKIP, and with good reason.

    Comment by Michael Behrend | June 7, 2014 | Reply

    • Michael – if you look at previous by-elections this is an extremely good result for any Government and a very poor one for the principal party of opposition – Labour! It is also (judged against their own boasts) a poor result for UKIP.

      Comment by Richard Willis | June 7, 2014 | Reply

  2. UKIP never expected to win this seat……………………and bearing in mind that the timing of this by-election was just a couple of weeks after the European election……………there was very little time for UKIP to mount a large campaign so soon after the winning of the European election.
    I wonder who set the timing and what were they so scared about!

    Comment by Howard Thomas | November 9, 2014 | Reply


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