Last week’s dismal weather meant many people took Thursday as a welcome day off work. The returning officer in the Bede ward of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council was not quite so generous to her staff, however, and I spent most of the afternoon and evening with a few other BULS diehards campaigning in the Bede by-election.
Bede was won by Labour in the last local elections by a tight margin in a straight-fight between Labour and the Tories. This time, however, seven candidates stood nominated, including Labour, Conservatives, LibDems, UKIP and the BNP. I must admit that I thought this looked quite troublesome for us – whereas in the past, the only protest vote against Labour was for the Conservatives, electors in Bede had another 5 boxes in which to put their cross this time. The most worrying of those was the extreme-right and fascist BNP. Despite the absolute polarisation in policy, increases in the BNP vote are often associated with disaffected Labour voters. I have often found this notion quite upsetting – to imagine that anyone who once may have believed in the principles of progressive and democratic socialism would subscribe to the BNP’s abhorrent principles of hate is quite honestly beyond me.
Thankfully, however, it was beyond the comprehension of most of the electorate in Bede. Labour won by a similar margin to the 2006 local elections, but this time with the BNP in 2nd place. The Conservatives came a very poor 3rd. This had to make me wonder about the electoral dynamics in the current political climate. The major swing in this election was not from Labour, but from the Conservatives – a huge 29.5% swing from Conservative to BNP.
Which begs the question, how much of the recent (though thankfully, limited) success of the BNP is really down to disaffected Labour voters, and how much of it is down to the neo-fascists who previously felt very comfortable in the Conservatives, beginning to doubt Cameron’s ability to represent their abhorrent views? I do wonder whether Cameron’s attempt to mimic Blair and occupy the centre-ground will annihilate the Conservatives’ grassroots right-wing vote.
The results of the Bede by-election can be found here.
John Ritchie is BULS Chair