I ended my previous post the subject of which was the Richmond Park By Election with these words;
'Another thing that is untested is whether the reverse also applies, and whether Leave voters would also switch traditional party allegiances to support a Leave candidate. We may learn more about that from the Sleaford & North Hykeham By Election which shall be the subject of my next post.'
In terms of the Remain/Leave paradigm Sleaford and North Hykeham is a different type of seat from Richmond Park. The area voted overwhelmingly Leave, and the outgoing MP Stephen Phillips was also a Leave supporter, and he was not standing again to seek re-election. Phillips resigned for a reason that surprised many commentators in that he objected to what he saw as the Government's attempt to bypass the rule of law by appealing to the Supreme Court against the High Court's ruling that the triggering of Article 50 be a matter for Parliament rather than the Executive alone. He was also reported as saying that the Conservative Party had become UKIP-lite and he could no longer call himself a Conservative. Phillips was, and indeed is, a barrister, and it is a well known maxim that a lawyer in Parliament is a lawyer first and a Parliamentarian second. It's a little surprising that none of his fellow lawyers have yet followed his path out of Parliament given the written assaults by the press on the independent judiciary the government have let pass without official objection.
Sleaford and North Hykeham is a safe Conservative constituency, returning only Conservatives MPs since its creation. The majority in 2015 was 24,000 with Labour in second place. UKIP had failed to make the sort of impact in this part of Lincolnshire they had managed in some others. Another regular feature in Lincolnshire politics is the presence of The Lincolnshire Independents, who hold seats on the county council and who came 4th in the constituency, ahead of UKIP in 2010.
The Greens again decided not to stand in the By Election, but unlike in Richmond Park where they did so in the name of a Progressive Alliance, here they decided to back Sarah Stock, an Independent standing on a platform of defending Lincolnshire Health Services. They called on Labour to follow suit, without success.
This all meant that the public perception was that is was extremely unlikely that the seat would change hands, which again is different from Richmond Park where it was a distinct possibility from the off.
We can however examine the questions raised by the Richmond Park result and which I addressed in my earlier post, namely;
1. Are Conservative and Labour Remainers prepared to vote for a candidate from another party with a greater chance of success if that candidate is clearly for Remaining in the EU and says they will vote accordingly?
2. Are LibDem voters prepared to do the same?
3. Are Leave voters prepared to do likewise in order to ensure a pro-Leave candidate wins?
The Conservatives and UKIP field Leave candidates. The labour candidate said he had voted Remain but was now in favour of accepting 'the majority verdict'. The Liberal Democrat was pro-Remain. Leavers therefore had three parties they could vote for, and remainers one.
The Conservatives successfully held the seat but due to a low turnout their actual number of votes halved.
UKIP moved from third place in 2015 to second in the By Election, but their share of the vote fell. This is significant because with the turnout dropping from 70% in 2015 to 37% accepted wisdom would decree that the most motivated would vote in higher numbers and with membership of the EU being such a prominent issue UKIP voters should have been easily motivated. In straight number terms the vote was less than half of what it had been in 2015.
Labour likewise dropped both in terms of votes cast and percentage share. Their woes continue.
In contrast, the LibDems, the only overtly pro-Remain party in the contest, saw not only their share of the vote rise but their vote in actual numbers rise, despite the reduced turnout. They moved from fourth in 2015 to third place.
1. The LibDem vote was increased by Remain voters witching their usual party allegiance.
2. This was in part suppressed by the perceived safeness of the seat.
3. UKIP are failing to capitalise on their success in the referendum.
4. There is now a noticeable re-alignment of politics along Remain/Leave lines.
5. This alignment is more significant in seats where a Remainer victory is a real possibility.
6. Leavers have not yet had the need to organise themselves around a single candidate to oppose either a sitting Remainer or to defend a Remain challenge in a pro-Leave area.
7. LibDem voters have not yet had either a need nor an opportunity to witch their allegiance to support a Remain candidate.
The next post will try to assess exactly where we are now in relation to Brexit post-referendum.