Not many are the days where I see both 4 O’clocks, but I’m glad today is one of them.
How to process such a wonderful night? It began with Question Time, which came from Clacton, and having watched the warm reception that greeted every pronouncement from Harriet Harman I was worried that perhaps all the pundits had got it wrong. Was Clacton about to deliver a shock Labour landslide? That this did not come to pass may well be because all of Labour’s voters were in the Question Time audience rather than the polling booths.
I need not have worried. Douglas Carswell delivered a phenomenal result, improving on both his vote share and the number of votes that he won as a Conservative in 2010. It is hard to imagine how UKIP’s first MP could have been returned with more enthusiasm. He did the noble thing in asking for his electorate’s permission to change party, and they could not have given a more resounding “yes”.
Douglas Carswell will be an exemplary first elected MP for UKIP. His acceptance speech was measured, humble, philosophical and dare I say somewhat Churchillian.
“Humility when we win, modesty when we’re proved right. If we speak with passion let it be tempered by compassion”
You really must watch his speech here if you have not seen it.
Contrast with Liz McInnes’ acceptance speech for Labour in Heywood. This started with the words “The people of Heywood & Middleton have backed Ed Miliband’s plan”, which were rightly greeted with loud jeers. Clearly written before the closeness of the result was known, it was packed with cliches, spin, and Labour HQ soundbites. The difference between a Labour party drone in Manchester and a man of principle and conviction in Clacton could not have been better illustrated.
Labour have a serious problem. They have lost chunks of the working class vote. Heywood & Middleton is the safest of safe seats. They held it by a whisker. Under normal circumstances, Labour would have held this comfortably, with a significantly improved vote share on 2010, when they were at a record low under Gordon Brown. Even the utter collapse of the Lib Dems did nothing to boost their vote share. Two polls had them 19 points clear of UKIP, Labour expected a 20 point lead. In the end, they won by 2%. As John Bickley said, another 24 hours of campaigning and UKIP would have won that seat. It seems Labour’s cynical decision to call the by-election as soon as possible, setting the date before their own MP’s funeral, has paid dividends for them.
As David Coburn MEP said, Labour are now a party for rich people who feel guilty about having money. As more people wake up to this fact, there will be no such thing as a safe seat.
UKIP’s decision to ask for a recount was a work of delicious genius. I suspect it was probably motivated less by the expectation of changing the result and more in the interest of highlighting to the media exactly how close this result was. That Labour only won on a recount is a strong message.
Heywood was no better for the Conservatives, who lost their second place to finish a distant third. If one message stood out from Heywood, it is, as Nigel Farage said, if you vote for the Conservatives anywhere north of Birmingham you will get Labour. UKIP are the only opposition to Labour, the only way to break Labour’s complacent stranglehold in vast areas of the north.
As damning an indictment of Ed Miliband’s Labour as the Heywood result was, there was no solace for them in Clacton. The party of opposition, coming back from a record low in 2010, should be making inroads into a largely working class area, with real poverty, who feel let down by the coalition. Under the old politics, Labour would have been hoovering up disaffected voters who were not feeling the benefits of the recovery. Carswell won Clacton from Labour as recently as 2005, and as we hear so often, the right wing vote is split. Yet Labour’s vote share dropped 14% on 2010.
It was a relatively good night for the Lib Dems. One of the biggest cheers of the night came when they realised they had held on to their deposit in Heywood. They didn’t do as well in Clacton, attracting just 1% of the vote. Just 483 votes, finishing behind the Greens. So that’s 10 lost deposits since 2010. With bills like that, it’s no surprise they were unable to pay for the security at their Glasgow conference.
Another highlight was the complete inability of the various representatives of the failed Labour and Conservative parties to understand UKIP or what was happening. They were completely adrift, and clung to tired old cliches. They repeated “it’s only a by-election”, “it’s a protest vote”, “we must listen”, “UKIP will charge for GPs” and I even heard “leaving the EU will cost 3 million jobs”. The most ridiculous refusal to face up to the reality of last night’s results must go to the Tories. They repeatedly parroted the “vote UKIP get Miliband” line that their focus groups have told them will work, despite the result in Heywood & Middleton showing the exact opposite.
This morning the pundits and politicos have still failed entirely to acknowledge that UKIP has changed the political landscape, and that their old preconceptions are no longer valid. They continue in utter denial and incoherence. How can the Tories this morning be arguing that last night was a disaster for Ed Miliband, and that voting UKIP makes a Labour win more likely? Perhaps we would be better served to look to the bookmakers, who are usually a pretty shrewd bunch. William Hill have this morning cut the odds of a UKIP coalition government from 25/1 to 6/1.
We will surely see more defections from the old parties. Once we are within 6 months of the general election, the convention is that a by-election will not be called. While good MPs should be welcomed, we must be wary of those who will be tempted to move from motives of self-preservation.
On to Rochester. Douglas Carswell will be there on Saturday to support Mark Reckless, where he is confident that the voters will “reject negative campaigns by old party machines”. After last night, I think he might be right.