Labour loses election in its heartland to UKIP

The Labour Party sensationally lost a council by-election to the UK Independence Party in one of its heartlands of Rotherham this week.  Harry Blackwell examines the background and its consequences.

A potential Labour candidate?

A potential Labour candidate?

Labour lost 24% of their vote in the previously ‘safe’ Rawmarsh ward of Rotherham Borough Council in South Yorkshire.  Labour came 104 votes behind the victorious UKIP candidate, with a swing of +35% from Labour to UKIP (full result below).  The ward is in the parliamentary constituency of Wentworth and Dearne, held by Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary John Healey.

Local factors

There were important local reasons behind such a dramatic swing in one of Labour’s ‘rotten boroughs’, where tradition has it that even a donkey with a red rosette gets elected (an all too familiar occurrence).

The by-election was caused by the resignation of Labour’s Shaun Wright following his election to an £85,000 salary as Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire back in November of last year.  He hung on to his £12,000pa allowance as a councillor for Rawmarsh ward as long as possible, but eventually stood down after being challenged about how much time he was putting in to his role as PCC – it was revealed he had only made 6 decisions since November, one of the lowest by a PCC in the country, and all PCCs were summoned to Whitehall for a dressing down about their expenses and hospitality which must now be declared publicly.

A number of candidates were put forward within the Rotherham Labour Party but the Party agreed an all-women shortlist and the outcome was that Lisa Wright, Shaun Wright’s wife, was selected as candidate for the by-election.  As well as aiming to succeed her husband as councillor, Lisa Wright’s mother is also a member of the Council and other members of her family have previously served as councillors, in what came to be seen locally as a ‘dynastic’ issue.  This provided fertile territory for UKIP to get a significant protest vote, as they did in the neighbouring Rotherham parliamentary constituency last November, when they came second in the by-election following the disgrace and resignation of Labour’s Dennis Macshane over an expenses’ scandal.

Rotherham Council has also been immersed in a scandal over child protection following the imprisonment of five men of Asian origin in 2010, convicted of sexual grooming of young girls.  The Rotherham Council and the Labour Party that has controlled it since it was created in 1974 have been widely accused of failing to protect children.  The scandal associated with this had provided both UKIP and the BNP with fertile territory for an anti-Asian anti-Labour campaign.  But this accelerated in the Rotherham parliamentary by-election last year when it came to light that the Labour Council had ham-fistedly removed foster children from a couple who were members of UKIP.

Labour stokes anti-immigrant racism

However, Labour only has itself to blame for stoking the flames of racism.  During its period of government, it set up the now disbanded UK Borders Agency and the Points Based System to bring in draconian controls on non-EU immigration.  Their Immigration Minister in the final days was Phil Woolas, who ran a disgraceful racist campaign in his Oldham constituency and was subsequently convicted of electoral offences and removed as MP. Labour’s response to the campaign by UKIP and the Tories against immigrants is to say that it failed to control it sufficiently when in office and should have done more to keep migrants from the new EU states of Bulgaria and Romania out of the UK.  In replying to the Tories call for tighter immigration controls, Labour has enthusiastically backed them and in a scandalous development last week promised support to the Tory’s new Immigration Bill in Parliament.  Even Liberal Democrat MP, Vince Cable, had to complain in parliament last week:

“a couple of days ago I was on the radio on the “Jeremy Vine” programme. I was following a female voice that was ranting on about millions of illegal immigrants and the negligence of the Government in letting them all in and not deporting enough people. I thought at the time that it was some fringe party that regarded Mr Nigel Farage as a sort of soggy, left-wing liberal, but I then realised it was the Labour shadow Home Secretary (Yvette Cooper), and I tried to understand where she was coming from. It says quite a lot about the Labour party’s current values that it feels it necessary to apologise for letting in foreigners, but is still reluctant to apologise for wrecking the economy.”

(Hansard, 10th May 2013)

Cable’s complaints are undoubtedly hypocritical, as he sits in the Coalition Cabinet where his own Liberal Democrat party backs the Tories fully on immigration and austerity (and they were rewarded with just 28 votes in the Rawmarsh by-election, one fortieth of the votes of UKIP).

But it is an indication of the depths that Labour has sunk that its message on immigration is virtually indistinguishable from the most right wing Tories.  All that the current language of all three main parties will achieve is to create cynicism and stoke the fires of UKIP, pushing up their vote.

Labour’s general reaction to the UKIP results in the local elections two weeks ago was to delight in the apparent Tory discomfort, but UKIP’s results in the South Shields by-election and in Rotherham indicates that it can take votes from Labour as well as the Tories, especially given the ‘anti-establishment’ rhetoric coming from UKIP and Labour’s 13 years of ineffective government.

Election dangers

The Labour leadership seem to believe that they will coast to victory in the 2015 general election on the back of disillusion with the Coalition parties.  This is a dangerous strategy as can be seen by the result earlier this week in the general election in the Canadian Province of British Columbia.  The social democratic New Democracy Party (NDP – Labour’s sister party, though a little more to the left) went into the election with a 20% lead in opinion polls and confident of victory.  Their leader tacked to the right in order to try to win over the ‘middle ground’, despite strong polling evidence of support for more radical policies from young people in particular.  The result was that the ‘Liberal Party’ (in reality a conservative party) gained seats at the expense of the NDP and won the election.  Undoubtedly the NDP were hamstrung by both their rightward moving campaign, their previous record of government in the province (1991-2001), and their close identification with the more right wing federal NDP.  As the Canadian ‘Socialist Worker’ has pointed out (, turnout dropped dramatically and there is no mandate for the Liberals’ austerity and anti-environment agenda.

The shock result in British Columbia stands as a stark reminder to Labour that embracing the same message as the pro-austerity parties will not guarantee electoral success.  Elsewhere, in Europe we can see that the social democratic PASOK party in Greece continues to collapse, while the French Socialist Party’s presidency of Hollande in France is on the rocks within a year of taking office, and the German Social Democratic looks to be struggling to win the General Election in September.

A recent YouGov opinion poll for the London Evening Standard ( indicated that 49% of people saying they would vote Labour at the next General Election would support a General Strike against the Coalition Government’s policies.  This is a million miles away from the current trajectory of the Labour leadership.  While Labour’s leadership are moving even further to the right, a huge space has opened up for a left wing alternative including from many erstwhile Labour voters.

Alternative Needed

The working class needs an effective alternative to the message and actions coming from all four of the pro-austerity parties.  The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition to its credit stood in this by-election but only scored 61 votes (2.5%).  It had previously won a parish council by-election in another part of Rotherham Borough, Maltby, in March, and also stood in the Rotherham parliamentary by-election winning 1.3% (though George Galloway’s Respect party ran a more effective campaign and won over 8%).  TUSC’s election results in the shire county elections last week were generally very poor, with many in the ‘family and friends’ category of a few dozen votes.  There were a few notable encouraging exceptions, but nowhere did TUSC achieve even 10% of the vote.  To a certain extent this is inevitable for an organisation that confines itself to appearing only at election times and does not participate as a party in the day-to-day struggles against the government.  We need a better alternative, and one that can work in a non-sectarian way with those in Labour (and the Greens) who support left wing aims and in initiatives like the People’s Assembly.   The development of Left Unity currently offers the best hope of building that alternative.



Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council – Rawmarsh Ward by-election 16th May 2013


Caven VINES (UK Independence Party)  1,143  (46.5%, +46.5%)
Lisa WRIGHT (Labour)  1,039  (42.3%, -24.0%)
Martyn PARKER (Conservative)  107  ( 4.4%, -8.5%)
George BALDWIN (British National Party)  80  (3.3%, -17.6%)
Andrew GRAY (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts)  61  (2.5%, +2.5%)
Mohammed MEHARBAN (Liberal Democrats)  28  (1.1%, +1.1%)


(Change in vote compared to previous result in May 2012)


7 responses to “Labour loses election in its heartland to UKIP”

  1. John Penney says:

    Intersting analysis. I don’t know anything about the specifics of the Rawmarsh ward, even though I worked in South Yorkshire for a few years and have witnessed the community devastation wrought by the collapse of employment in steel production and coalmining over the last 20 years, but the corrupt “family dynasty” stitch up stuff in local politics,looks all too familiar for Labour in so many places nowadays. As a political presence on the ground the Labour Party is pretty much dead in many areas of the UK nowadays.

    The UKIP vote does look like a pretty superficial protest vote – but does show how in areas like South Yorkshire, left to rot as a deindustrialised wasteland, with a pretty much total disappearance of the trades union traditions (in Steel and coalmining) which projected and maintained a working class self identity, people are isolated and very prey to the reactionery petty nationalist and anti immigrant phobic popular press campaigns that UKIP specialises in taking advantage of.

    As the article says, without a ,day in, day out, permanent activist radical Left party organisation to help build campaigns and build local loyalty, it is not at all surprising that yet again TUSC got a derisory vote. At this stage of the anti austerity struggle, people in these impoverished and demoralised communities have finally seen through the self serving corruption and collaborationism of Labour, but without a real radical Left party to vote for, they will often fall for the carpetbaggers and shysters of UKIP, or heaven forbid, the pseudo radical and racist siren voices of the fascist Far Right – once the BNP or its successor stop fighting amongst themselves !

    We really do need to get ourselves together on the Left.

  2. Micky D says:

    Even more than Eastleigh or the other local council results recently , this should be cause for alarm at Labour HQ … It shows how out of touch they are even in their heartlands … On the plus side it shows how easily a straight talking left wing party could Hoover up such votes at the local level , so long as it had roots in an area

  3. prianikoff says:

    “…it shows how easily a straight talking left wing party could Hoover up such votes”

    So why did TUSC only get 61 votes?

    • Micky D says:

      I said straight talking …

    • Micky D says:

      TUSC isnt a party btw …its a coalition which includes parties such as the Socialist Party , its therefore more an electoral umbrella as opposed to a coherent and focused political party such as the one i hope left Unity becomes …

  4. Mark Stocks says:

    I live in the ward next to Rawmarsh. Labour have let down the working class of Rotherham in many ways as noted in the article. The attempted establishment of a dynasty by the wright family was just too much to stomach for many Labour voters. UKIP’s vote is largley a protest vote and the population of Rotherham are superficially turning to the right.The policy howlers of UKIP will be exposed in the fullness of time, as have the BNP’s. However to stop the workers moving to the right the left have to get their act together and campaigne on issues on in the here and now while still keeping thier eyes on the long term goal of socialism.
    TUSCs vote was low because they got off to a slow start and did not paln to campaigne,it was going to be a ‘let’s see how it goes’ approach. But the local supporters pushed forward, organised a meeting and leaflet drops.A lot more could have been done if they started earlier.
    To build on this result (and there is potential to build)TUSC have to stop this disappearing act between elections. they also have to develop an identity. People get confused between TUSC,SPEW, SWP, No to EU. The SP & SWP need to take TUSC seriously and move from a coalition to a party.
    A set towards this in Rawmarsh is that a group fighting for victims of the bedroom tax has been formed and is open to any one regardless of their party affiliation. The group is to meet this Wednesday 22/5/13 in the Earl Grey pub.
    Politicos are often accused of only appearing when they want votes, well here’s a change to prove that this does not apply to socialists.

  5. Mark Stocks says:

    Sorry about the spelling mistakes

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