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Friday, November 16, 2012 

Given the respect they deserved.

It was apparent from the moment Louise Mensch stepped down from her Corby seat that Labour would take the constituency back, such is the nature of the vast majority of by-elections held mid-term in key marginals.  The only question was how big the swing would be, and 12.7% with a majority of 7,791 is a thumping great win.  Grant Shapps (or is it Michael Green?), the Tory chairman, has naturally compared it with their win in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008, which saw a bigger swing of 16.9%, but it's hardly a comfort: the polls currently suggest a nationwide swing of 8.5% to Labour, more than enough for them to win outright if an election was to be held tomorrow.  Anything approaching 12.7% would be a landslide.  The turnout was 44%, more than respectable for a by-election held in November, so no excuses there either.

You of course extrapolate one result to a nationwide picture at your peril, yet the results in the other two by-elections, admittedly both safe Labour seats, were dismal for both coalition parties.  The Tories lost their deposit in Manchester Central, which had a pitiful turnout of 18% (although admittedly only down 26% from the general election itself), while the Lib Dems lost theirs in Corby, coming fourth behind UKIP, in spite of holding up the announcement of the results by about an hour through arguing the toss over it.  While the Lib Dem share of the vote will certainly recover come the election, it's clear that the polls aren't that far out in suggesting UKIP are almost neck and neck with them.  The European elections in 2014 are going to be very interesting indeed.

As for the PCC elections, all the predictions of a dreadful turnout have been proven right.  There were some wards where literally no one voted, which tells you all you need to know about how disgracefully the entire process has been instituted.  The highest turnout from the areas declared so far is 17.75% in Bedfordshire, where the candidacy of the EDL's Kevin Carroll (who came fourth) no doubt boosted it slightly (update: this has since been beaten by 19.15% in Humberside, where John Prescott was pushed into second place.  Don't think it was a good idea to get Tony Blair to canvass for you, John.).  Lowest is Staffordshire, which had the wonderful choice of either a Labour or Tory commissioner, motivating just 11.63% to voteLike Hopi Sen, I don't particularly want to believe that the whole point of holding the vote in November and with next to no information available other than on the internet was a specific ploy to depress the vote, and yet beyond the cock-up explanation, which isn't really convincing when all the warning signs were there, there doesn't seem to be any other reason for having done it this way.

The two bright spots are that despite the obstacles set in their way, independents have so far won in 12 authorities (although how independent they will be when some are former police officers is dubious), and that the number of spoilt ballots seems to have been high.  While some will have been down to confusion over the use of the supplementary vote, in Dwfed-Powys where there were only two candidates 4.3% spoiled their papers.  In my authority, where the Tory won after second preferences were counted, 6,413 ballots were spoilt, or roughly 2.8%, not all that far behind the independent who lagged in last with 6.79% of the vote.

Most important is that these were elections the Conservatives felt were theirs to lose.  Instead in the popular vote they're lagging behind Labour, and have lost in areas which are effectively Tory rotten boroughs at general elections: in Kent they were pulverised by a local magistrate and chair of the police authority, while in Gloucestershire a former police officer in favour of restorative justice and against the cuts won after the second round.  Sad as it is that so many party hacks have won, overall the elections and the parties have been treated with the amount of respect they deserved: very little.

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