The Barnsley Central by-election, called in the wake of disgraced Labour MP Eric Illsley’s jailing for expenses fraud, has been convincingly won by the Labour party. To the relief of Labour central office, voters in the North of England constituency do not appear to have blamed the party for Mr Illsley’s criminal conviction.
However the vote was no ringing endorsement of the Labour party. At 36.5%, voter turnout in this traditional Labour stronghold was down considerably on the 56.4% who turned out to register their vote during the 2010 general election, a figure which suggests widespread apathy and public disaffection with the electoral process. This will concern Labour strategists, whose voters are generally considered those least motivated to turn out on election day.
As was widely predicted, the Conservative vote took a hammering, as voters expressed their anger at spending cuts. However the real losers were the Liberal Democrats. Despite fielding an experienced and articulate candidate in Dominic Carman, the party lost its deposit and sank to a humiliating sixth place behind both the extreme right wing BNP and a local independent candidate.
The magnitude of the collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote will strengthen the hand of those within the party who have been critical of its coalition with the Conservatives. The electoral annihilation of the Lib Dems in Barnsley Central confirms the view that the party is bearing the brunt of voter anger over government spending cuts.
The result reinforces the perception that the Lib Dems will take the greatest hit in the forthcoming Holyrood elections, raising the question of whether disaffected Lib Dem voters in Scotland will turn to the SNP or the Labour party.
Result (% change since 2010 in brackets)
Dan Jarvis, Labour: 14,724 60.8% (+24%)
Jane Collins, UKIP: 2,953 12.2% (+7%)
James Hockney, Conservative: 1,999 8.3% (-9%)
Enis Dalton, BNP: 1,463 6.0% (-3%)
Tony Devoy, Independent: 1,266 5.2%
Dominic Carman, Liberal Democrat: 1,012 4.2% (-13%)
Kevin Riddiough, English Democrats: 544 2.2%
Howling Laud Hope, Monster Raving Loony Party: 198 0.8%
Michael Val Davies (Independent): 60 0.2%