South Shields by-election: Labour hold solid, Ukip surge, Tories fall and Lib Dems… plummet to 7th. Ouch.

polling dayThe South Shields by-election — triggered by David Miliband’s exit from British political life — has resulted in a solid hold for Labour, which polled just over half the vote, only fractionally down on its 2010 position.

But it’s Ukip which has most to celebrate: in a seat they haven’t contested since 2001, they stormed to a strong second, winning almost one-quarter of the vote.

The Tories lost almost half their vote, slipping to third. Meanwhile the Lib Dems’ valiant Hugh Annand lost his deposit, trailing in seventh place behind the BNP.

Full result below:

    Labour Emma Lewell-Buck 12,493 (50.4%, -1.6%)
    UKIP Richard Elvin 5,988 (24.2%, N/A)
    Conservative Karen Allen 2,857 (11.5%, -10.1%)
    Independent Ahmed Khan 1,331 (5.4%, N/A)
    Independent Socialist Party Phil Brown 750 (3.0%, N/A)
    BNP Lady Dorothy MacBeth Brookes 711 (2.9%, -3.6%)
    Liberal Democrat Hugh Annand 352 (1.4%, -12.8%)
    Monster Raving Loony Alan “Howling Laud” Hope 197 (0.8%, N/A)
    Independent Thomas Darwood 57 (0.2%, N/A)
    Majority 6,505 (26.3%, -4.1%)
    Turnout 24,780 (39.3%, -18.4%)

The BBC reports Hugh’s post-result comments:

… Hugh Annand said the result was “extremely disappointing but perhaps not surprising” given that the Lib Dems were in government and having to take tough decisions. He told the BBC that some supporters had not adjusted to the degree of compromise required in coalition and those wishing to register a protest vote had gone elsewhere. “We have disappointed and angered some people who have supported us in the past,” he said.

Which seems about right… The party says it fought a “small but spirited” campaign in South Shields, understandably focusing its scarce resources on the local elections also taking place yesterday.

Lib Dems have become almost innoculated in the course of this parliament to such dire by-election results in areas where we don’t expect to win. We can of course point to Labour’s performance in the 1997 Winchester by-election for some consolation: their vote dropped to just 1.7% from 10.5%. And to Henley in 2008, when Labour lost their deposit and came fifth, behind the Greens and BNP. And also to Hamilton South in 1999, where the Lib Dems dropped to sixth place, the year before entering the Scottish government.

But it’s salutary to remember that, if this by-election had been fought 10 years ago, it would have been the Lib Dems likely pushing Labour hard, as we successfully did in Brent East (2003) and Leicester South (2004), and almost-successfully managed in Hartlepool and Birmingham Hodge Hill (both 2004).

What’s the difference? Well, back then we were an opposition party with a USP (opposition to the war in Iraq) and regarded by voters as a safe outlet for a protest vote. Now we’re in government with the Tories at a time of economic decline.

Meanwhile Ukip is enjoying its turn in the sun as an opposition party with a USP (stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off-pull-up-the-drawbridge-nothing-against-them-personally-but-we’re-full-and-another-thing-health-and-safety-some-of-my-best-friends-are–all-the-parties-are-the-same-I’d-emigrate-if-I-could) and regarded by voters as a safe outlet for a protest vote.

Of course when the Lib Dems did well in by-elections in days gone by, the right-wing press dismissed it as a protest vote that meant nothing. Apparently now Ukip are doing it, the press thinks we should really sit up and take notice. Just saying…

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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42 Comments

  • David Blake 3rd May '13 - 8:03am

    I agree with your last comment, Stephen. All the press coverage in recent weeks for UKIP has helped them no end. And of course Ken Clarke’s clown comment.

  • Peter Watson 3rd May '13 - 8:19am

    The obvious problem with the last paragraph is that it cuts both ways, with Lib Dems (e.g. Simon Hughes on TV this morning) making the same points that Labour and Tories used to make about our successes (mid-term blues, government parties do badly, protest vote being lent to a none-of-the-above party).

  • I know this is only anecdotal, but like it or not…
    1. Farrage is a class act – and I’m afraid his “none of these people have ever had real jobs” comment about the other party resonates well with a lot of people (as did Nadine Dorries quip about posh boys and the price of milk).
    2. There is a lot of “stop the world I want to get off” about at the moment (and not just in Britain).
    3. Hard times and anti – immigration sentiment (as ever whipped up by the Daily Mail et al).

    On the other hand, I believe that come a general election it will still be decided between the three main parties, and there the malaise seems to be affecting all equally.

  • Doh…not enough coffee…

    I meant to say “other party leaders” and “Hard times and anti – immigration sentiment” go hand in hand.

  • Richard Mayhew 3rd May '13 - 8:32am

    The difference is that the Liberal Democrats have been around for decades getting good results in by-elections but never managing to turn that into a strong general election result. On the other hand UKIP have come from essentially nowhere to ~25% of the vote in about 18 months.
    If UKIP fail to make breakthrough at a general election within a couple of election cycles, then it probably safe to write them off as protest vote, by-election specialists, like the Liberal Democrats used to be. But at the moment no one really knows how popular they will be in general election, where it really matters. and that’s why the press is taking notice.

  • Still have my suspicions about the “rise” of UKIP. Firstly, there’s still no evidence that it’s a UK-wide party, rather than an English one – it’s only ever had derisory results in Scotland and Wales and I suspect that will continue next year.

    Secondly, UKIP has been talked up by the media over the last few weeks – particularly by the Sun, Mail and Telegraph – primarily to promote their own ends and try to push the Conservatives to the right. If the Tories make that move, and as we get closer to the General Election, those three (though possibly not the Sun) will start to play down UKIP’s chance of success and push the Tories again.

    Finally, I’d point to the 1989 European election and the “rise” of the Green Party then. We were in a mess post-merger, the Tories were dipping in support, and the Greens got over 2 million votes putting them in 3rd place (though, because this was still a FPTP election, they didn’t get any seats.) I see a similarity here, so I think that people saying this is the most serious threat to the three main parties in living memory are jumping the gun somewhat.

  • @Keith Legg – good points.

    I wonder if the “rise of UKIP” in England will mean more people will vote for independence in Scotland?

    The black comedy of a newly independent Scotland trying to get into the EU while a Eurosceptic Tory govt. is taking the rest of the UK out of it springs to mind.

  • David Wilkinson 3rd May '13 - 9:10am

    Many thanks to Hugh Annand for standing in the by election, not an easy task with no help.

  • lol. Hysterical whining of upper middle class liberals here has been amazing.

    The truth is that due to globalization, the economy will be in terrible shape for at least another decade. Wealth creation is moving east. Any parties in government will be hamstrung. UKIP are here to stay.

    It is all about managed decline,.

  • Helen Dudden 3rd May '13 - 9:30am

    The political situation is to blame for the rise of UKIP. I fear if this carries on.

    Both coalition parties are to blame, time to rethink and listen to what is being said!

    Extremist politics are not good politics.

  • Well done to Hugh Annand – this must have been a particularly thankless task.

    However if you are going to have a bye-election in a hopeless area without supporting your candidate with resources, I have to question the wisdom of standing in the first place? Not sure it has achieved anything other than dreadful headlines this morning.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 3rd May '13 - 10:05am

    Yet another lost deposit: well, you were warned. I don’t think that you can take any comfort from Labour’s poor showing in Eastleigh because the combined Conservative and UKIP vote there would have resulted in you losing, whereas in South Shields the combined UKIP and Tory vote did not get any where near matching Labour’s fifty per cent plus share of the vote. UKIP are splitting the Right just as the SDP/Liberal Alliance split the Left. The result from South Shields suggests that the Liberal Democrats will not benefit from this at the next General Election. I will give you the same advice I have been giving you since 2010. Get out of the coalition and join the major pro European party in a high profile opposition to Ukip and the Tories.

  • @Mack(Not a Lib Dem) – I thought that the Lib Dems were *the* major pro – European party? Who did you mean?

    I would suggest that post 2010, the Lib Dems have repositioned themselves as a centre – right party, and are therefore not likely to split the left – leaning vote (such as it is) anymore.

  • Now we’re in government with the Tories at a time of economic decline.

    Well at least Stephen is honest enough to recognise that ……

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 3rd May '13 - 10:51am

    @Crush “Who did you mean?”

    The Lib Dems are certainly pro European but they are hardly a major party. Labour is a major party and pro European.

  • At this stage we should stop backing the coalition with the Tories. The so called agreed policies are not working and sometimes are even damaging the economic recovery. Also remembering the world is in an economic mess mainly caused by debt and the international banking system. The conditions inside the banking sector are still present that could cause the problems to repeat itself yet again as they did in 1929 and 2008. Looking at the gold market where there is falling prices but lack of supply because too much paper trading in the system.
    Strange things are happening with the current economy and therefore strange things can happen in politics and that can be dangerous. This is why political parties need to be seen as they wish to be seen standing by their principles.
    Liberals need to stand by its principles even if it risks bringing the coalition down.
    We need to discourage private debt: It is selling your future and committing the holder to enslavement in repayments.

  • @Mack “Labour pro – European” Hmmm…not that pro – European to my mind. To me one of the real failures of Labour in government was the failure to make the case for Europe.

    @Earnest – good point, the mess was caused by the international banks see the film “Inside Job”, or “Freefall” by Joseph Stiglitz. Labour’s contribution to the mess was failure to regulate, not their spending policies. One of the failures of the Lib Dems in coalition has been to buy into the Tory spin that it was spending that caused the problem as a pretext to attack on the welfare state.

  • Max Wilkinson 3rd May '13 - 11:19am

    It’s at times like this, with UKIP on the rise, that we can be thankful for the first-past-the-post system 😉

  • One very important observation, that I have heard several times since Eastleigh, is that many people who had not bothered voting for many years, had been motivated to go the ballot station and vote UKIP. Those voters in ‘hibernation’, had all but given up any hope, of having any effect on breaking up the three party ‘cabal’, of elitist, self serving ‘posh boy’, politicians. For once those dormant voters realised that they can make a difference. And today they did. UKIP, will go from strength to strength because disaffected voters have scented blood, in that they can (and will), break up the cosy Westminster mould.
    Also, time and again, folk here keep banging on about ‘seats gained’ ‘or not’, by UKIP. But it’s about the haemorrhage of votes, not seats won by UKIP. That haemorrhage of votes keep Labour or Tory fingers, just out of reach, of the keys of No. 10, ultimately forcing the two main parties, to either adopt, absorb or steal UKIP policy on immigration and Europe. If voters want UKIP policy on immigration and Europe, (and they do !), they care not, whether it is delivered by UKIP, or the ‘forced hand’ of the Tories or Labour. It amounts to the same thing.
    Sadly, I’m still hearing via comments, that some diehards, still don’t seem to get the bigger picture. I suspect that for them, ‘waking up and smelling the coffee’, is not an option, if you are obstinate at best, and outright comatose at worst.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 3rd May '13 - 11:51am

    @Ernest

    Completely agree with you on every point.

  • “Labour is a major party and pro European.” Hahaha!

  • ” Well, back then we were an opposition party with a USP (opposition to the war in Iraq) and regarded by voters as a safe outlet for a protest vote.”

    there’s some revisionism going on here which helps to make the present more palatable… Would we have described ourselves as such at the time? This analysis implies that our loss of support is due to not having the anti-iraq protest votes. This may well have a germ of truth but is only a small part of the story as it ignores the fact that the party was building support prior to Iraq thanks to a centre-left agenda based on Liberal principles and pragmatic-evidence based policies. It is the rejection of this position which is the cause of lost support far more than the loss of the anti-iraq protest voters.

  • @John – we’ve had that before when the Lib Dems were the beneficiaries, in 2003 on Iraq – look at some of the results in Scotland where we were coming second in seats where we’d previously lost our deposit. What inevitably happens is that these people will drift away again – some to other parties, some back to not voting – and UKIP’s support will fall.

    Also, again based on our experience, UKIP now face a serious examination of both their policies and their people. We already know that their economic policy doesn’t entirely stack up, and come the next election they may well have a record in office in some areas – and given they weren’t expecting to be elected, the people they have may not exactly be the first choice.

  • @simon – not revisionism, but a reason we can now see with hindsight – I remember looking at those results and thinking “where are all these Lib Dems in Airdrie?” when it was one policy, not the overall policy package, people were voting on.

    That said, there is a space for a moderate, decentralising, social and liberal party in the UK – which I still think is our natural space and not linking up with the right.

  • John Broggio 3rd May '13 - 12:48pm

    @Oranjepan – careful. Critics of this party (of which I freely admit I am now one) might say with some justification that the party is neither liberal (secret courts to name one) nor democratic (ignoring conference on same issue).

  • Alex Macfie 3rd May '13 - 1:14pm

    @Mack: The SDP/Liberal Alliance DID NOT “split the Left”. Polling evidence suggests that SDP/Liberal Alliance voters were evenly divided between the Tories and Labour in terms of party of second choice. This means that if the SDP/Liberal Alliance had not existed, and all other things being equal, then the Tories would have won massive victories in both 1983 and 1987, with overall majorities in terms of both votes and seats.
    Besides, the SDP portrayed itself as a moderate alternative to the ideologically left-wing Labour party. This is different from UKIP, which sells itself as a more ideologically right-wing alternative to the Tories — the true believers challenginng mainstream Tory apostacy.

  • paul barker 3rd May '13 - 1:26pm

    The big story is that while both Tories & Labour have lost votes to UKIP we havent. Our vote share looks likely to be much the same as in 2011 & 2012. Local elections are a very poor predictor of General Elections but if UKIP do well in 2015 they will damage our rivals not us.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 3rd May '13 - 1:36pm

    @Alex Mcfie “. . . if the SDP/Liberal Alliance had not existed”

    If only they hadn’t!

    Ah, the magic word “if”. But in the 1980s we weren’t dealing in “ifs”; we were confronting the SDP/Liberal Alliance that splinter group of Labour’s “Tory” MPs who split Labour’s vote and kept the Tories in power for a generation with the assistance of a biased media which chracterised those who upheld the post war concensus as the enemies within. For those reasons I suspect that for many Labour supporters the arrival on the scene of an invigorated UKIP is not entirely bad news if it has the same effect on the Tories as the SDP/Liberal Alliance had on Labour in the 1980s.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 3rd May '13 - 1:40pm

    @Paul Barker
    “The big story is that while both Tories and Labour have lost votes to UKIP we haven’t”

    Have you actually examined the South Shields result?

  • paul barker 3rd May '13 - 3:36pm

    The one thing Local, European & Byelections have in common is that they tell us almost nothing about General Elections. We have been here before, in 1989 there was much talk of The Greens becoming the new 3rd Party, all the “Experts” agreed that The Libdems were finished. Lets learn from history & keep our nerve. Weve lost a lot less councillors than we expected, our projected vote share is much the same as in 2011 & 2012 & we are hanging on while The Big Two fall to new lows.
    2015 will be very different, voters arent going to be making a protest or sending a message; they will looking for a positve story about the future & UKIP will have nothing to say.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd May '13 - 5:08pm

    @Mack: You completely ignore my point that the SDP/Liberal Alliance did not split the Labour vote. Labour lost support because of its lurch to the left under the leadership of Michael Foot, choosing ideological purity over realism. You can hardly accuse Labour in the 1980s of clinging to the post-war consensus; however, the SDP in its early days (not during David Owen’s leadership, when it was a rather different beast) was rather overly nostalgic for it. Many voters who switched from Labour to the Alliance in 1983 might have switched to the Conservatives in the absence of a centrist force. As it was, there were many people who switched straight from Labour to Conservative in 1983.

  • The local elections – overall not too bad – in places where we have an MP – very good – but why are we even standing a candidate in a by-election like this? I know the arguments about giving everyone a chance to vote Lib Dem – but we all knew what the result would be – all we are getting is the terrible publicity of a lost deposit and the lowest Lib dem share of the vote in a by election. Come on – where is the sense in that?

  • Well I didn’t vote, and work, for the party for years as a means of protest. I was for something not against something. To hear Nick Clegg saying that the Lib Dems are on a journey from being a party of protest is infuriating. Such comments by implication are intensely patronising and allow him the comfort of not having to address the very real disenchantment that many erstwhile supporters are currently experiencing.

  • nuclear cockroach 3rd May '13 - 6:58pm

    @jb

    “ken clarke is amazing, for a political ‘heavyweight’ he has terrible political instincts!”

    Ken Clarke is correct: UKIP’s membership consists of clowns (and worse). Nothing that has happened today changes that verdict. The electorate knows full well what UKIP is, and decided to use them to give a giant raspberry to the parties of (potential ) government. That is all!

  • Foregone Conclusion 3rd May '13 - 11:53pm

    We did incredibly badly where, in a good year, we would have done badly. It’s slightly embarassing, but currently the party is in survival mode, and I really don’t care about how badly we lose in seats like this one. I’m more worried about Southport than South Shields!

    That is not to say that I don’t thank Hugh Annand for a completely thankless task.

  • David Evans 4th May '13 - 3:05pm

    @peter.tyzack.

    I love the way you re-write reality to fit with the “I agree with Nick” line. ” … under this system only 1st and 2nd count.” Tell that to old David Owen and the old Social Democrats: they saw the future when they finished 7th behind the Raving Loonies who offered a coalition with them. But tell me Peter, when was the last time a party of government finished 7th or lower in a parliamentary by-election?

  • The main message from this by-election, from Barnsley Central and from many of the police commissioner elections is that in the current environment nobody will vote for us if we don’t campaign, whereas in 2010 we were getting 20% of the vote almost without trying. However, Eastleigh, Oldham, and many of the council results have shown that where we work we still can win or at least get a respectable vote.

    The real question is: is it still worth putting up a candidate if we are not planning to campaign?

  • Still, 352 out of 24780 on a 39% turnout is quite a shocker. It is worrying just how low a Lib Dem vote can go. Can anyone explain the dynamics in South Shields; were Lib Dems targeted to vote Labour to keep out UKIP?

  • Peter Watson 6th May '13 - 9:24am

    @Paul K
    I think that Oldham showed us that if we looked like tories and quacked like tories we could attract conservative voters in a Lib-Lab marginal. Unfortunately it also showed us that we could repel Lib Dem voters in equal measures.

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