Peter Stands in for Sean Fear
The by-elections held this week covered very different parts of the UK. Flintshire is in North Wales, but home to many commuters to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool. Burnley – where two of the by-elections fought this week took place is a former mill town, of the type where the BNP have their biggest following. Huntingdonshire is (rather confusingly) a beautiful part of Cambridgeshire, where John Major would see spinsters cycing to church through the mist, before sipping warm beer, and playing cricket on the village green.
In Flintshire, an Independent candidate had a narrow win against Labour in a seat that has generally alternated between Labour and Independents. The Conservatives fought the seat for the first time in several years, and came third, comfortably ahead of the BNP. There was no Liberal Democrat candidate.
The results in Burnley, in contrast, offers some comfort for all parties except the Conservatives. Two seats were vacant, a Labour seat following the death of a Councillor, and a Liberal Democrat seat after the barring of a Councillor found to have committed electoral fraud. Labour and Liberal Democrats each held a seat after the votes had been counted – but the not the seat they had held before the elections. In Brunshaw ward the Liberal Democrats finished three hundred votes ahead of the BNP, and nearly four hundred votes ahead of Labour (who were defending the seat). The Conservatives trailed in with 90 votes, in fourth place. In the second Burnley ward, Daneshouse with Stoneyholme, Labour narrowly defeated the Liberal Democrats (944 votes to 906) with the far-right England First in a distant third place, and the Conservatives polling just 35 votes.
In leafy Huntingdonshire, the Conservatives polled more strongly, but the Liberal Democrats held a seat vacant after the death of a popular local councillor with a strong swing, collecting nearly two-thirds of the votes cast. UKIP finished well behind in third place (continuing their recent poor results), while Labour obtained just 20 votes. Last May the Conservatives won this ward with a majority of nearly four hundred.
Altogether the votes cast in the four elections were Conservatives 823 (12.3%), Labour 1714 (25.6%) Liberal Democrats 2903 (43.3%), BNP 591 (8.8%) and Others 6.68 (9.9%).
This set of results offers great encouragement to the Liberal Democrats. Labour will feel that their vote is not collapsing in the North, but (as Sean Fear has argued) they may face some difficult results in the South of England. The Conservatives will be concerned that their opinion poll lead has not – since Christmas – translated into a significant improvement in their local election results. Despite their second place result in Burnley, the BNP may well be the more disappointed. They must have thought that the Burnley elections provided an opening for them – but they have hardly barged their way through.
Results in full
Burnley BC, Brunshaw: Lib Dem 875 (44.1; +16.3), BNP 538 (27.1; +0.6), Lab 479 (24.2; -6.7), Con 90 (4.5; -10.2).Majority 337. Turnout 39.9%. Lib Dem gain from Lab. Last fought 2006.
Burnley BC, Daneshouse with Stoneyholme: Lab 944 (46.6; -3.7), Lib Dem 906 (44.7; -5.0), England First Party 141 (7.0; +7.0), Con 35 (1.7; +1.7).Majority 38. Turnout 52.4%. Lab gain from Lib Dem. Last fought 2006.
Flintshire UA, Penyffordd: Ind (x3) 304/88/38 (44.9; -5.1), Lab 271 (28.3; -21.6), Con 203 (21.2; +21.2), BNP 53 (5.5; +5.5).Majority 33. Turnout 33.5%. Ind gain from Lab. Last fought 2004.
Huntingdonshire DC, Warboys and Bury: Lib Dem 1122 (64.7; +27.9), Con 495 (28.5; -29.4), UKIP 97 (5.6; +5.6), Lab 20 (1.2; -4.0).Majority 627. Turnout 37%. Lib Dem hold. Last fought 2006.
Peter Pigeon is a Liberal Democrat activist and contributes to Liberal Review)