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UK politics: the stay-at-home elections

Richard North, 30/11/2012  


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Typically, the by-elections of yesterday have evoked some extraordinarily superficial analysis, including a complete misrepresentation of the UKIP position. But then, with the legacy media getting so many things wrong, it should be no surprise to find it going adrift here.

UKIP aside, however, the really interesting story is the mandate delivered at these and the last batch of by-elections – six contests in total.

Starting with the Middlesborough constituency, we find that an electorate of 65,851 delivered a Labour victory on a turnout of 25.6 percent. With 10,201 votes cast for the winning candidate, Andy McDonald, that represented a mandate of a mere 15.5 percent.

The picture in Croydon North, with an electorate of 85,107, also delivered a Labour victory, this time with 15,892 votes, giving the winner a mandate of 18.7 percent. Then we have Rotherham, where Labour's Sarah Champion gets a mandate from 15.6 percent of the electorate.

Then, two weeks ago, we had the Manchester Central by-election. With 89,519 registered voters, Lucy Powell 11,507 votes gaining a Labour victory with a "mandate" from 12.9 percent of the electorate.

On the same day, the 75,175-strong electorate of Cardiff South and Penarth gave Stephen Doughty a mere 9,193 votes, delivering a mandate of 11.6 percent while Corby, with its electorate of 79,468, gave Andy Sawford 17,267 votes – a mandate of 21.7 percent.

In a total of six recent by-elections, therefore, we have mandates ranging from 11.6 percent to a maximum of 21.7 percent. Overall, from a total electorate of 461,251 the total votes cast for the six winning candidates were 73,836, representing an average mandate of exactly 16 percent.

Interestingly, that compares closely with the dismal performance of Labour's Seema Malhotra in last year's Feltham and Heston by-election, where she gained a mandate from 15.7 percent of the electorate.

Thus, as we remarked at the time of the police commissioner elections, we have a situation where politics is in crisis. Actually, it is democracy in crisis. Where you have six MPs elected to parliament on an average mandate of 16 percent, that is no longer democracy.

This is not even the tyranny of the majority. It is rule by a tiny minority – less than one fifth of the electorate.

As for UKIP, in the six by-elections, 15,074 votes were cast for the party, out of that total electorate of 461,251. That actually gives an average poll of a tiny 3.3 percent of the electorate prepared to turn out to vote for this minority party.

On the other hand, Ed Miliband welcomes his recent results as an endorsement of "One Nation Labour". But the mandate is no endorsement. The reality is that, if representative democracy is not already dead, it is dying on its feet. And, with the support of 3.3 percent of the electorate, UKIP is not providing a credible alternative.

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