Well done Labour Party machine (but there’s still a crisis of politics)

30th November, 2012 12:45 pm

Three by-elections. Three wins. Three swings to Labour. It’s hard to be too critical after a night like that, and so I hope I won’t be. Any sensible Labour supporter would have taken last night’s results at any point during the by-election campaigns.

That’s 6 by-election wins in just two weeks – the Labour Party has had worse electoral periods than this.

Party staff (or as it’s often customary to describe them, “the party machine”) deserve particular credit for last night’s results. Many of them have been on an election footing for the best part of 2012. A significant number of them rattled from by-elections in Corby, Manchester and Cardiff straight onto the next set in Croydon, Middlesbrough and Rotherham. They work incredibly hard, and rarely get the thanks they deserve. Thank you. I hope you get the break you all so richly deserve – and that you’re asleep and not reading this.

(That’s not to say, of course that some of the higher ups in the party machine (I’m looking at your NEC) don’t have questions to answer around how Labour selects by-election candidates, but I’ll be coming back to that issues later…)

Credit too is due to MPs who worked so hard on by-election campaigns – perhaps especially John Healey who seems to have held together a fractious CLP in Rotherham when things could have rapidly spiralled out of control after the contentious – to say the least – selection.

And of course, to party members from across the country who gave up their free time at a time of the year when most sensible people are indoors at night and Christmas shopping at the weekend.

The underlying tale of last night, as I indicated in the liveblog last night, was the collapse of the Lib Dems, and the rise of UKIP as a potential second party in the North. In huge swathes of the country people who would never dream of voting Tory would consider voting UKIP. Despite many of them being unreconstructed 1980s Thatcherites, UKIP’s brand is not in the toilet, which for many northerners is exactly where the Tory brand resides.

As for the Lib Dems, I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said already – 8th in a by-election is appalling. Deposit losing is becoming the norm.

(Incidentally, a strong UKIP performance in the general election coupled with a Lib Dem collapse would be a massive boost to Labour’c chances of forming a majority government…)

But this shouldn’t obscure how badly the Tories performed too. They got fewer votes across the three by-elections than UKIP and barely more than the Lib Dems. This was a rejection of both coalition parties, and a thumping for the government.

But it was also a rejection of mainstream politics in general.

The rise of fringe parties should concern anyone who cares for any of our mainstream parties, as should the second set of low turnout by-elections this month*. Politics remains in crisis and apathy at party politics and the political system is rife. The BNP coming third in Rotherham is a serious cause for concern – as is the huge majority of people who thought that voting at all wasn’t worth the hassle.

Sure, there were mitigating circumstances – time of year, recent PCC elections and the fact that the result seemed pre-ordained – but that doesn’t escape the fact that almost 75% of people thought not voting was the best choice for them. Labour had a good night last night, especially when (in Rotherham particularly) it could have gone so horribly wrong. It’s hard to be too critical – but even in defeat you should know your enemy.

And last night it wasn’t UKIP, Respect, or the Tories.

It was apathy.

* – caveat, Corby’s turnout was quite good for a by-election, Rotherham could have been far worse, and Croydon’s turnout figure was deflated by the sheer size of the electoral register

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  • Jeremy_Preece

    Hi Mark. I have just made a long winded comment the item “THis is how badly the LibDems sis (and the Tories weren’t much better.)”. I won’t repeat it again here, but I think that we were both saying basically the same thing.

  • Yes, indeed, thank you to Labour Party staff.

    However, we should ask whether a CLP with a sitting Labour MP – like Croydon North – should not be able to provide the core of the campaign itself. OK, with eight wards each with say five polling districts, that’s a lot of polling stations to cover with tellers and ferrying of telling sheets back to committee rooms which also need staffing; and that’s before you even think of leafletting and canvassing a whole constituency in three weeks flat.

    But if you have a grass roots membership it could be possible to do a lot with sensible people-management. For example ferrying telling sheets can be done on bike by schoolchildren if they are willing and sensible.

    And presumably for the London Mayor and Greater London Assembly elections, in the case of Croydon North, not so many months ago the constituency was canvassed at least partly so it’s not as if it’s canvassing from scratch.

    When – a long time ago – I was the election organiser for my ward I was quite surprised how much work quite frail party members could put in, without little or no pressure, from their homes with work delivered and collected (these were the days of hand-addressed election addresses). Folding and stuffing, farmed out, can be done in a trice. And even canvassing, taken gently for those new to it, can be as much inspiring and energising as dispiriting.

    We have become too dependent on people coming in to help out – what happens if they don’t? Those armies of Young Labour or LGBT Labour, for example. More importantly, we have ceased to be a mass party with all that this means. In part it is a result of a general shift from belonging to membership organisations to being consumers. However it has been accelerated in the case of the Labour Party because we have consciously dismantled the structures that, for many, made membership meaningful. Resolutions working their way from branch to GC to Party Conference, with political debate at each level. True, this was not a way to write detailed Party policy; and true, it involved sitting in draughty meeting rooms or people’s living rooms, and agenda-structured meetings deter as well as attract. We have allowed the grassroots to feel they are not valued save with their direct debits. If we had to run three hotly contested by-elections in marginals, where it was a slugfest between Tory and Labour and few sideshows, we would be very hard stretched to achieve three ins in one night.

  • AlanGiles

    “that doesn’t escape the fact that almost 75% of people thought not
    voting was the best choice for them. Labour had a good night last night,
    especially when (in Rotherham particularly) it could have gone so
    horribly wrong. It’s hard to be too critical – but even in defeat you
    should know your enemy.

    And last night it wasn’t UKIP, Respect, or the Tories.

    It was apathy.”

    I’ve said it before – I’ll say it again. You can blame apathy on the fact that so many of the public – many of them Labour’s natural supporters, just don’t feel that the main parties have solutions to our problems – indeed many people see politicians as part of the problem.

    Inspire people to vote and they will but I am afraid the repetition of “too far, too fast” and “one nation” only inspires ennui – we have heard it all before, and, though it is so very easy to say such things, what do they actually mean to people working in part time temporary jobs, or not able to work at all?. Damn all. I am sure it gives people struggling to make ends meet, the Comet worker losing their job next week, great solace to know that Cruddas is busy beavering away at his three year “policy review” (or should we say redecorating?)

    It is for politicians to inspire the public, not for politicians to assume the public are just voting fodder to be manipualted

    • And it doesn’t help if victory speeches are larded with still more one nation stuff addled with excessive praise for Ed Miliband. People will come to respect him naturally or they won’t but you cannot induce respect by obsequiousness.

      • I like Ed and always have but lets use the one nation issue well not allow it to become just another slogan
        I was very impressed with Sarah Champion, though – despite her selection the local party do seem to have rallied round and she seemed a very good candidate, her interviews were excellent – a bit of real passion there. Hopefully she will be able to shake off the selection problems as they weren’t her fault anyway

        • Daniel Speight

          But that’s what we always say Mike. It wasn’t their fault anyway. If she had any pride she would put herself forward for reselection before the next election. Chances of that happening? Zero?

        • AlanGiles

          Good morning Mike. I think the problem is “one nation” has now already become a stale, hackneyed catchphrase – Miliband’s equivalant to Blair’s equally vacuous “make a difference” and “for the many not the few” – sound fair(ish) but actions speak louder than words, and, frankly, I honestly don’t see much changing, 3 year policy review or no.

  • Ian

    A fantastic effort for all those who campaigned,It’s tough at anytime but in byelections at the end of November that’s the toughest. I’m still thinking there is a rat somewhere in the UKIP foster couple story too! WELL DONE LABOUR! Now we must build policies please & look forward to 2015

  • robertcp

    It is hardly surprising that the public do not like the mainstream parties when you look at recent governments. Labour is doing relatively well because Ed Miliband is not doing much wrong and the coalition is even more idiotic and objectionable than New Labour. Plague on all your houses is probably a reasonable attitude for voters at the moment.

    Labour cannot really do anything about this apathy until it is in power again. Looking on the bright side nobody can be a worse Labour Prime Minister than Tony Blair!

  • Daniel Speight

    As Cameron retreats to the right with his Thatcherite MPs yapping around his ankles, the temptation being dangled by Miliband’s spin doctors and bag carriers must be to take over the centre ground vacated and the husky dog teams left behind by Cameron and be guaranteed election to prime minister in 2015.

    A couple of words of warning. First guarantees are often worthless. Two if he does this then there should be no expectation of anything other than voter apathy getting worse except for those whose dislike of the political class will just turn into hatred. The BNP result in Rotherham should therefore be a cause for concern.

  • “In huge swathes of the country people who would never dream of voting Tory would consider voting UKIP. Despite many of them being unreconstructed 1980s Thatcherites, UKIP’s brand is not in the toilet, which for many northerners is exactly where the Tory brand resides.”

    This is something the party the party needs to address, fast. UKIP are essentially a Tory-right splinter faction, and we need to make it clear that that is all they are. In terms of background and life experience, many of the things that make many working people balk at the Tories are also there. Farage, for example, was a public-schooled city boy, meaning he’s cut from the same cloth as Cameron, Clegg & Osborne. In an age when people complain about the lack of difference between the parties, here’s a simple way for us to stress Labour’s uniqueness and why it’s so important that people support us: British politics now consists of the Labour Party and three Tory parties. There’s the Tories, there’s the ‘nice Tories’ (the Lib Dems) and there’s the ‘Tories in denial/exile’ (UKIP). We’re all that’s left now if people want a genuine alternative.

    “The BNP coming third in Rotherham is a serious cause for concern”

    I was concerned by that, but it’s worth noting that both their actual vote and their percentage share declined. Them being third (instead of fourth in 2010) was essentially more of a product of the vote transfers going on around them, by the looks of it, with the coalition parties collapsing and huge numbers of votes transferring to UKIP. Still, we should remain vigilant.

  • Incidentally, a strong UKIP performance in the general election coupled with a Lib Dem collapse would be a massive boost to Labour’c chances of forming a majority government…

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