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By election body blow for Labour

Jim Jepps


Last night's by elections results will not make cheerful reading over the cornflakes in the Blair household.

In Leicester South Labour managed to cut a 13,000 vote majority into a humiliating defeat to the Lib Dems. In Birmingham Hodge Hill where Labour had a majority of 11,000 they managed to scrape in by the skin of their teeth at 460 votes (after nerve wracking recounts).

Health Secretary John Reid was prompted to say that the results were "not satisfactory." Well, quite.

The Lib Dems, who were opposed to the war before it began and critical of the war after had been hoping to do a 'Brent East' and indeed they have, beating the Conservatives into a degrading third place.

Winning candidate and newly elected Liberal Democrat MP Parmjit Singh Gill came out with a very interesting statement on the Lib Dem website.

"Yesterday Lord Butler gave his views on Tony Blair’s reasoning for backing the invasion of Iraq. Today, people in Leicester have given theirs.

"The claims about weapons of mass destruction were exaggerated. The justification which Tony Blair gave for backing George Bush was wrong.

"The people of Leicester South have spoken for the people of Britain. Their message is that the Prime-Minister has abused and lost their trust. He should apologise now. And so should the Conservative Party for backing him so strongly on this issue.

"Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats were right to oppose George Bush’s war in Iraq. Charles Kennedy took a courageous stand against the decision to go to war - and his position has been vindicated by events and supported by voters today.

"The people of Leicester have said that they want the Government to change their ways. And that when they are ready for a change of Government - it is not to the Conservatives that they will turn."

 

Obviously many in the anti-war movement have some slight reservations about the consistency of the Lib Dems anti-war stance but it cannot be denied that they have attracted votes on the basis of opposition to the war.

Beneath this vote though there was an excellent result for RESPECT. In fact the results were so good that even the BBC cited the vote as "plenty of evidence" that the war was a key factor in voters' minds.

RESPECT won a whopping 12.66% of the vote in Leicester and a good 6.27% in Birmingham coming a clear fourth place in both elections.

 

Yvonne Ridley

Leicester South result

Parmjit Singh Gill.  Lib Dems 10,274 34.94%
Sir Peter Soulsby Labour 8,620 29.31%
Chris Heaton-Harris Tory 5,796 19.71%
Yvonne Ridley RESPECT 3.724 12.66%
David Roberts Soc Lab 263 0.89%
RU Seerious Loony 225 0.77%
Patrick Kennedy Save Our Schools 204 0.69%
Paul Lord Ind 186 0.63%
Mark Benson Ind 55 0.19%
Jiten Bardwaj Ind 36 0.12%
Alan Barrett Ind 25 0.09%
 

Turnout: 41.6%
Lib Dem majority 1,654
Swing 21.46%

In the Euro elections RESPECT polled around 10% of the vote in Leicester. Many people had assumed that RESPECT would get squeezed in this election and the vote share go down.  Even getting the deposit back was going to be seen as a victory so 12.66% is well beyond reasonable expectations.

Whilst for the Lib Dems this election may have felt like Brent East it certainly wasn't Brent East for the left. In Brent the Socialist Alliance (in possibly less favourable terrain) found itself caught among the many competing left groups and independents.  Yvonne Ridley was equally facing many other 'fringe' candidates and yet was able to go well beyond anything they were able to.

This is important because many on the left had doubts about Yvonne Ridley as a candidate (possibly with good reason) and some supported alternative candidates (Socialist Labour and Save Our Schools). This was clearly a mistake and the vote, in decisively beating those candidates should be used as a fraternal bargaining chip to say - look let's have united left candidates and we can all profit from this.

 

John Rees

Birmingham Hodge Hill result

Byrne (Lab) 7,451 (36.45%)
Davies (LD) 6,991 (34.20%)
Eyre (C) 3,543 (17.33%)
John Rees (Respect) 1,282 (6.27%)
James Starkey (NF) 805 (3.94%)
Mark Wheatley (Eng Dem) 277 (1.36%)
James Hargreaves (OCV) 90 (0.44%)
Turnout: 37.89%
Lab majority: 460
Swing: 26.75%

Although the Birmingham vote did not advance as far as Leicester's it was still an excellent result comfortably retaining the deposit and coming a clear fourth place.

there is lesson for the Lib Dems here too. They could have won this seat if they had chosen a candidate acceptable to the local party. One Birmingham branch publicly distanced themselves from the official Lib Dem candidate because of her financial involvement with a mobile phone company whilst they have been running a high profile campaign against new masts in residential areas (see our earlier report). There is no doubt that without this controversy the Lib Dems would have gained the extra 500 votes required.

Both of these by-elections were a stroke of luck for RESPECT being called in areas where there had already been a good vote (although local organisation was not always what it might have been). What is clear is that RESPECT has capitalised on this opportunity well and shown that it is possible for 'an other' to break into wider support.

 

 

 

July 2004

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