While Labour holding Barnsley Central comes as no surprise what does surprise is Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats slumping from second at the general election to last place in last night’s by-election.
This put the Lib Dems behind not only UKIP, who rose above the Conservatives to take second place with 12% (+7), but also behind the BNP on 6% (thankfully also down by -3) and the independent candidate on 5%. The Lib Dems share of the vote in Barnsley was just 4% down a whopping 13% on May 2010. The Conservatives came in third with 8% down 9% as the Tory protest vote decamped on mass to UKIP.
The result is a welcome sign for Ed Miliband as Labour marched ahead of its general election result to win a 61% share of the vote up +24 on the general election to give Dan Jarvis victory. Jarvis takes over from Eric Illsley who stood resigned over the expenses scandal. Illsley was jailed for a year.
Of course, the South Yorkshire constituency is a very safe Labour seat, but this doesn’t detract from sixth place and a 13% collapse for the Lib Dems being an embarrassment for Clegg. The party lost its deposit and its candidate, Dominic Carman, rightly said the party had been given “a kicking”. It is also another sign that the Lib Dems are possibly taking more than their fair share of public anger at the coalition’s program of cuts.
Interesting to see in the post election analysis that Lib Dem president, Tim Farron, not only commented on his party’s own performance, but in that of the coalition as a whole, when he said: “It was a poor result for us. It was a poor result for the Tories. The coalition parties didn’t do very well here.” Is that just a one off or a further sign of joined up coalition politics and a sign of things to come?
In a wider context what does the Barnsley result, if anything at all, mean for the coming referendum on the alternative vote? We read last night that the no campaign is forging ahead with an 11 point lead over the yes campaign. Does then the referendum, and its close association with the Lib Dems and the toxic Clegg, suggest doom for the yes campaign? Last night’s result in Yorkshire would seem to add some weight to that argument.