By election body blow for Labour
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
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
claims about weapons of mass destruction were exaggerated. The
justification which Tony Blair gave for backing George Bush was
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.
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.
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
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.
Leicester South result
Parmjit Singh Gill.
Sir Peter Soulsby
Lib Dem majority 1,654
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
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.
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%)
Lab majority: 460
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.