- As everyone says, the Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections were good for Labour (as indeed were Cardiff South, Corby and Manchester Central earlier in the month) – but it wasn’t just because Labour won what had been safe seats. Most importantly, in Rotherham and Croydon North it saw off what ambushed it in Bradford West, a populist-left challenge from Respect, and it did so convincingly.
- Respect was written off by most commentators after the 2010 general election – but it sprang miraculously from the dead when George Galloway won Bradford West in March. It is not going to get a better shot at replicating that than Rotherham – a disgraced Labour MP, a large Muslim population, momentum from Bradford West. But it failed. Its performance (just over 8 per cent for Yvonne Ridley) was good for a far-left party historically (anything over 5 per cent is) but poor given everything that it thought was going in its favour. And 707 votes for Lee Jasper (and sixth place behind the Green) in Croydon North was risible. Respect is now nothing more than George Galloway’s personal political machine.
- UKIP did well, but the hype should be kept in perspective. New insurgent parties have actually won by-elections in the past rather than celebrate their best performance as coming a distant second with 22 per cent of the vote. UKIP has a long way to go before matching the Scottish National Party in Motherwell in 1945, let alone the Social Democratic Party in Crosby in 1981.
- The real danger from these by-elections is that they encourage Labour to adopt an even more opportunist populist approach to Europe and immigration than hitherto because that’s where the voters are. In Rotherham, more than one-third of those who voted chose candidates to the right of the Tories on Europe and immigration – and Labour’s focus groups are jammed with people moaning about bloody foreigners coming over here from eastern Europe, taking our jobs and houses and scrounging on the dole. The Labour leadership is of a generation that listens to the focus groups then works out what it believes – and Ed Miliband, despite his coherent though hardly inspiring speech in favour of remaining part of Europe the other week, has not broken the habit of telling people what the focus-group analysts think they want to hear. I’m afraid I expect a lot of Labour attempts to hijack UKIP themes over the next few months.
- It's utterly disgraceful that there was not a proper by-election news programme on the BBC last night or for the previous round of by-elections. If the public service remit of the BBC means anything, it is that it reports the proceedings of British democracy. Last night, the Croydon Advertiser's blogger beat the BBC to the Croydon North result (though he or she got a lot of the figures wrong) and the BBC didn't run a comprehensive report on the results until 40 minutes after the declaration. It was better by far in the good old days of Vincent Hanna and sing-songs round the piano with Larry Whitty.
1 December 2012
A few points to add to what has already been said elsewhere: