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Lib Dems 'get a kicking' in Barnsley
"The voters here in Barnsley have given me and the Lib Dems a kicking", admitted candidate Dominic Carman after coming sixth and losing his deposit in the Barnsley Central by-election on 3 March. Not that their coalition partners the Tories did much better, getting less than 2,000 votes, beaten by UK Independence Party (UKIP) who came second.
Five out of six who voted Lib Dem in the general election deserted them. This was their lowest placed result ever in a by-election in England. Carman reported that: "In the minds of many voters, if you wear a yellow badge you might as well wear a blue one." Despite Nick Clegg's claims that "we have nothing to learn from this result", the Lib Dems face growing splits at their Spring conference in Sheffield next weekend as well as electoral wipe-out in May's local elections.
This by-election was triggered by the jailing of Labour MP Eric Illsley, who got a 12 months jail sentence for fraudulently claiming £14,500 parliamentary expenses. Initially most people thought Illsley got what he deserved but as the election campaign went on there was more of a feeling that they're all as bad as each other so Labour didn't really suffer but the turnout was only 36.5%.
In a traditional Labour town, being the only parliamentary party in opposition to the coalition parties, Labour's share of the vote increased by 10% to just over 60%. Much has been made of the fact that Labour's candidate Dan Jarvis is the first MP in Barnsley Central since 1938 with no Yorkshire or coalmining links.
Labour's "dream candidate"
But As a former Parachute Regiment major who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, some Labour activists have even claimed him as a "dream candidate". And in this by-election, in an area of high unemployment and a traditional recruiting ground for the armed services, Dan Jarvis' candidature may have prevented some haemorrhaging of votes to the nationalist British National Party (BNP) and UKIP. But it also confirms Labour's move away from being a workers' party.
The far right, racist BNP did badly in this by-election. They have long targeted Barnsley and have gained over a quarter of the votes in four of the constituency's wards in recent local elections. However, their vote dropped from 9% in the general election to 6% this time which is likely to intensify their internal divisions as their electoral strategy stalls even further.
It's true, that the almost equally right-wing UKIP, who came second with 12%, garnered most of the protest votes, especially from disaffected Conservatives who think that Cameron is too left-wing! Together with the English Defence League's attempt to disrupt an anti-BNP demo during the election, the UKIP/BNP/English Democrats vote (20%) is still a warning of the dangers of the far right if no mass workers' party develops as a credible left-wing alternative.
Because of the rapid calling of this by-election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) decided not to stand. But the potential for TUSC was shown in the vote for Tony Devoy, an unemployed miner who stood as an Independent. He gained 1,266 votes (doubling his 610 in the general election) and saving his deposit with 5.2% of the vote.
He stood as "True Labour" against local Labour corruption and for "fairness, equality, social justice and a living income for all." Tony also pledged that if elected he would only take half the parliamentary salary, echoing the Socialist Party's call for a workers' MP on a worker's wage.
In The Socialist 9 March 2011:
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature