The Labour Party has won the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election. Ukip finished in second place. The victory was sealed when Labour won Rotherham by 800 votes, avoiding a second round of voting by 0.02%.
It will be a relief for Labour, especially given other news about the party’s support in Scotland and against the backdrop of the Heywood and Middleton parliamentary by-election, where Ukip pushed the party to within a few hundred votes of defeat. And it is a bad result for Ukip. The insurgent party has once again emerged as the second force in Labour territory and seen a sharp rise in its support. But there are four reasons why Ukip should have won this election.
The first is the national trend in party support. In polls that gauge Westminster voting intention, Ukip is averaging around 16 per cent, which is more than twice the level of support that the party need to inflict serious damage at the 2015 general election. Ukip are riding high nationally and that should have helped them cross the line in a low turnout PCC election. They are the insurgents who should be imposing themselves at every level of the political system.
Second, even within this area Ukip have already been polling strongly. Ukip effectively won the popular vote in areas like Doncaster at the European Parliament elections and has increasingly strong branches in the Yorkshire region. Back in May Ukip polled 41 per cent in Rotherham, 35.1 per cent across Doncaster and 36 per cent in Barnsley. Both electorally and organisationally there are few credible reasons for not winning here -activists might say they were distracted by Rochester and Strood but that seems a weak argument. They are about to fight dozens of seats at a general election.
Third, the election follows a few specific events that should have given Ukip’s campaign further momentum. Think about what these local voters would have seen in recent weeks. A national Ukip conference in Doncaster. A Ukip victory in Clacton. A national debate about Ukip inflicting damage on the main parties. And a consensus that Farage is about to be handed his second MP in Rochester and Strood. Ukip needs to ask itself why this has not spilled over into a low turnout election and where Labour were implicated in the local issue that was proving so potent locally.
This brings me to reason number four. Specific local grievances around child sexual exploitation and low trust in institutions handed Ukip an opportunity to mobilize anger around its anti-establishment and increasingly anti-Labour message. If the party wanted a perfect storm, this was arguably it. An economically struggling area of the country where many voters were incensed by an issue that was linked indirectly to religion and culture. Voters, it now seems, did not want to play ball to the extent that Ukip was hoping. They gave the party more votes but simply not enough.
The broader point is that Farage knows that he needs to deliver serious damage in Labour territory to remove lingering doubts about the viability of his ‘gun for Labour’ strategy. Ukip are increasingly showing themselves able to make serious incursions into Labour territory but at some point they need something solid -an actual win at a by-election, or an actual Labour defection in Westminster. The PCC election in South Yorkshire was one such opportunity for the party to do so and on that level it has failed.
That all said it speaks volumes about Labour’s internal weakness that it is using a result in a regional PCC election (one that it would seek to abolish after 2015) as a source of confidence. It also seems odd that Labour is comparing its performance in one PCC by-election, where the turnout was less than 15 per cent, to the Conservative’s fortunes in the upcoming Rochester and Strood parliamentary by-election. If there is a valid point of comparison to the latter campaign then it is the parliamentary by-election in Heywood and Middleton, where Labour’s result was far from solid. For some reason, Labour is not investing heavily in Rochester and Strood –an area that it controlled as recently as 2010.
This article was first published on Mathew Goodwin’s blog available here
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