Friday, 3 May 2013

Liberal Democrats – R.I.P.

Yesterday's elections confirmed that the Liberals are dead as a political force. They are now not even second best to the clowns of UKIP. In the South Shields by-election, they came 7th, with less than 1% of the vote, a result more fitting to one of the left sects, and now more or less reflects where the Liberals themselves stand as a political force.

In reality, the County Council elections were no better for the Liberals. Its important to remember a number of things about County Council elections. Firstly, County Councils are the natural hunting ground of the Tories, and of the Tory wing of the Liberals. They are stuffed full of that section of the population upon which these right-wing populists rest i.e. the landed aristocracy and gentry; the financial oligarchy that makes its money in the city, but lives in the country; the small capitalist class that does likewise; and the more reactionary sections of the middle class. These are also the sections of the population that are likely to rarely see or hear a foreign voice, but who are petrified that the country is being over run by foreigners. There again, they are the same forces that exhibit all of the parochialism of NIMBYISM, and yet complain that they lack various services enjoyed by town dwellers. If they don't want the British lower orders to share their environment, its no wonder they have a phobia of people from further afield.

The County Councils are an undemocratic construct that should have been abolished by Labour long ago. They are like rotten boroughs that have control over huge sums of money, to control important areas like Education, and Social Services, but which have an in built majority for Tories. They are the bits left over, after the city areas have been taken out, to form Unitary Authorities and Metropolitan Boroughs. Yet, the counties frequently also contain sizeable urban populations, trapped as islands within a sea of rural privilege. As a consequence, they trap both the workers in the urban areas, as well as the rural poor. Labour should commit itself now to abolishing them, and establishing a series of Unitary Authorities, based upon central urban hubs.

The nature of the County Councillors is illustrated by the fact that, where Liberals were standing, as the second place candidate, in 80% of those seats, the seat was held by a Tory. The only reason the Liberals did not lose even more seats than they did, in the County Elections, is because their co-thinkers in the Tory Party were also getting slammed in those seats. Its also on that basis, that UKIP, who are also a right-wing populist outfit, based on that same section of the population, did well. In those Counties where there was a larger urban element, UKIP either stood no or less candidates, or did badly anyway.

Much has been made of UKIP's second place in South Shields, but come on, Labour got over 50% of the vote, its share of the vote hardly budged. The fact is that UKIP polled less than half of Labour's vote. UKIP only managed that because the vote of the other right-wing parties collapsed, and this was a by-election.

The other thing to know about County Councils is that who gets elected, depends a lot on when the election takes place. In 1997, and 2001, when I was elected to the County Council, I did so with votes that were so big they needed to be weighed, over 3,000 votes on each occasion. Yet, the reality is that in 2001, had it not also been a General Election, I would probably have lost! The reason; most of my vote came from the workers from the Miners' Estate. It was such a large vote that it outweighed the vote from the surrounding semi-rural areas. But, outside General Elections, a majority of them didn't vote, whereas the Liberal and Tory vote always turned out.  So, comparing Labour's performance yesterday, with the elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005 is wholly distorting.

The Liberal experience, in the County Council elections, is also what happened at Eastleigh. The Liberals won, because a large part of the Tory vote went to the “Loonies, Fruitcakes, and Closet Racists” of UKIP. Had that not happened, and it almost certainly will not come a General Election, the Liberals would have lost Eastleigh. Wherever, the Liberals face Labour they are doomed, and in a General Election wherever they face Tories, they are probably also doomed, even though UKIP will continue to drain some of the Tory vote.

The attempts by the media, to use these results to predict a 25% UKIP vote, in the General Election, and to predict a hung Parliament, show they either have little grasp of analysis, or, in an age of 24 hour news coverage competition, and short attention spans, they feel they have to sacrifice rational analysis to a grabbing headline, or shocking prediction. Firstly, come a General Election, even if UKIP continued to poll on the same kind of basis, they would not get 25% of the vote. On the kind of turnout that occurs in a General Election rather than a County Election, that share of the vote would fall to more like 12-15%.  The turnout for the County Elections is less than half that of a General Election, and the UKIP votes will not go up proportionately.  On the contrary, its likely to fall, even absolutely.  The same thing happened with the BNP vote, who appeared to do well, in low turnout polls for Europe etc., but who have now disappeared, most of their vote, and some of their members, going instead to UKIP. But, also, in a General Election, most of the Tory protest vote, that has gone to UKIP, will return to the Tories. Finally, in a General Election, fought across constituencies far more amenable to Labour, than to any of the right-wing populist parties, like UKIP, Tories and Liberals, Labour's share of the vote will rise considerably compared to these results, and those other parties' votes will fall. UKIP will likely fall back to 10% or less, the Liberals will disappear, and Labour will gain an outright majority.

As I've said before, if the Liberals disappear that will be a good thing. Labour should offer this drowning man no lifeline. They could only drag us under with them.

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