LEWISHAM EAST: Labour Win, Lib Dems Surge And UKIP Stands Still
So, there were no great shocks in Lewisham last night. Janet Daby retained Lewisham East for Labour. Perhaps the story of the night was the 20% surge in vote share by the Liberal Democrats to second place and 24.6% of the vote. However, this has to be set in the context of a very low turnout of 33% and the fact that Lib Dem voters or switchers who were perhaps hardcore Remainers inclined to poke Labour or anti-establishment (in Lewisham Labour is very much the establishment) voters with left-wing politics will have been heavily motivated to vote.
However, a 19% swing to the Liberal Democrats is far from inconsequential. It is, along with modest gains at a local level both in by-elections and at the local elections in May, a sign that they may be a much-diminished force in politics currently but they are still very much around. It also shows incidentally that the Corbyn March On Downing Street has very much hit the buffers.
For UKIP, there was some good news and some bad news. The good news is that David Kurten AM ran a campaign which achieved a considerable profile – mostly due to an eyebrow-raising but necessary ‘Stop The Khanage’ leaflet – and held off the challenge of the likes of The For Britain Movement – although I suspect Anne Marie Waters will be fairly content with 1.2% for a first outing. In doing so, David confounded naysayers who say that, for example, Gerard Batten’s hard-line on Islam will alienate more voters.
The bad news is that although UKIPs ground was held (1.6% was the outcome last time around) there was no indication of significant progress being made. Both the Greens and the Women’s Equality Party polled higher than UKIP. Some will mock this but it does have to be remembered what Lewisham is – a left-wing bastion of hardcore Remoaning. If you’re going to go outside the mainstream in Lewisham then you are probably going to tilt to the left and look at parties like the Greens and the Women’s Equality Party.
So, not a seat UKIP would look naturally for the green shoots of electoral recovery to bloom first in after a difficult time. Having said all that, context matters and so do results and for UKIP this was neither good nor bad but kind-of indifferent. All the same epithets about doing the work on the ground remain, the importance of canvassing, etc, etc. We are effectively building a Party from scratch folks and it will be shirt-sleeves up, boots and braces hard, honest graft with little immediate reward. UKIP can’t swoop in, drop leaflets, and expect to win votes just by being UKIP anymore. It will be door-to-door combat, scrapping for every vote, street-by-street, ward-by-ward.
One final point. I have no doubt that the mainstream media will use this to say that UKIP’s status as a ‘fringe Party’ has been confirmed but they are missing the point. Something is stirring on the so-called fringes. It may show our isolation from the ‘mainstream’ but it actually offers us the opportunity to build a connection with the energy and dynamism of this new movement. The challenge then will be to develop structures that can properly harness that and craft it into something that can leverage better electoral results. If we can do that then we will start to see an uptick in our electoral performances although it will be a long, long time indeed before that makes itself felt in seats that are like Lewisham East.
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