If you’re one of those who really miss by-elections campaigns a reminder from last week. twitter.com/LoonyPartyNews…
— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) March 6, 2013
Before Mr Farage gets too cock a hoop….
The last few parliamentary by-elections have been all about UKIP. They may not have won a seat, but they have certainly made the headlines. An increase of 14% in Corby, 16% in Rotherham, 24% in Eastleigh, polling over 10% of the vote in six of the last fifteen by-elections, only losing three deposits in that same timescale and clocking up a very impressive 39,374 votes (out of a total of 59,917 over the course of twenty years or so).
And yet there is something that Nigel Farage needs to remember. UKIP are not the only party to have a sudden surge.
Between the Kensington by-election (1988) and the Paisleys (1990) the Greens were regularly clocking up over 3% of the vote and in the Vauxhall by-election (held on the same day as the 1989 European Elections) they polled 6.13% of the vote (their first saved deposit in a by-election ever). However, after the 1992 general election, it was a sorry tale for the Greens as it took them a staggering twenty years to next save their deposit (when they polled 9.74% in the Norwich North by-election in 2009).
Similarly the National Front back in the 1970’s had a string of good by-elections. Under the rules there were then, there were no saved deposits but they reached a height of 8.15% in the Birmingham, Stetchford by-election in 1977 but just like the Greens they too faded (with the next saved deposit coming in 1994 when the BNP polled 7.03% in the Dagenham by-election).
And there is even worse news when you look at the swing back at a future general election as well (something that the Liberal Democrats know about only too well). Liverpool, Edge Hill was held just a few weeks before the 1979 general election and the Liberals gained the seat on a staggering 32% swing from Labour to Liberal, but on Election Night 1979, although the Liberals held the seat they suffered a 10.5% swing back to Labour. Shirley Williams won Crosby for the SDP in 1981 on a swing of 33.5% swing from the Conservatives, but lost the seat on a 7% swing back in 1983. Plaid Cymru’s totemic gain in Carmarthen (in 1966) and the SNP doing the same in Hamilton (in 1967) were both reversed at the 1970 general election (although the SNP did pick up the Western Isles to compensate). The 9% vote share for the Greens in Norwich North in 2009 became a 3% vote share at the 2010 general election. And even George Galloway who could claim that his candidate in Leicester South robbed the seat from Labour saw Yvonne’s 12.66% vote share in 2004, halve the following year.
So before you start making bold predictions of UKIP MP’. Mr. Farage, remember the history of by-elections. There is always a swing back.
Harry Hayfield writes PB’s regular local elections reviews