Saturday, March 02, 2013

Apathy and tease at Eastleigh

The Westminster village got all in a tizz in the run up to the Eastleigh by-election. But as Michael Deacon in the Daily Telegraph pointed out “Some in the press are calling this the most important by-election for 30 years. But important to whom? To the candidates and activists and parties, certainly. But to locals it seems more like a nuisance.”
On the day of the poll one breathless reporter said that it looked as if the “turnout could be as high as 70%”. In fact it was under 53% – down 16.5 % from the 2010 General Election. The attitude of the electors of Eastleigh seems to have been “Meh” at best. They were unexcited by all the hype and either apathy or a feeling of “None of the above” seems to have been the main winner.

If the mood of the people of Eastleigh was apathetic this doesn't mean that they weren't in the mood for a bit of a tease. They certainly weren't going to be told what to do by the Conservative machine which entered the campaign as slight favourites. And I’m sure that they saw through the hardly coincidental timing of revelations in the Right Wing press about a senior LibDem and the subsequent basket of excrement that was heaped on the hapless LibDem leader Nick Clegg. 13,342 voters plumped for the Lib Dem candidate motivated no doubt by a complex range of reasons chief among them, I suspect, was a wish not to be told what to do by Mr Cameron. Quite how many votes the Prime Minister lost his party by campaigning in the by-election I’ve no idea. But I suspect that notwithstanding all the LibDem failures in Government many voters went for them as the lesser of all the evils once they'd seen the hopeless Prime Minister bumbling platitudinously around – maybe holding their noses as they did so.

If the LibDem leader was hapless and the Conservative main man hopeless what of the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage who played a big part in the campaign in support of his candidate? Whilst Farage is not quite the British equivalent of Beppe Grillo he is a bit of a card. He gained the support of 9638 extra voters over and above the just under two thousand UKIP secured in 2010. How was this done – was it just a “protest vote” as Cameron would like us to believe? Well it depends what you mean by protest. It is part of the British character to know what we are against and it is rather less easy for us sometimes to know what exactly we are for. UKIP is a political party which is firmly against quite a lot – notably Europe and Immigration of course. This is  “scapegoat” politics – it appeals to a certain sense of unease in the electorate and finds someone or something to blame. So if an elector is a bit uneasy, and he has a sense that someone must be to blame (especially if that someone else is a  foreigner) the UKIP proposition is quite appealing. That the party is bereft of an intellectually rational message and is followed largely by “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" as David Cameron memorably called them back in 2006 can conveniently be forgotten in making the protest.

Had the Eastleigh by-election really been seen as important by the electors of Eastleigh as the Westminster Village thought it was then the second place of UKIP might be worrying. But as we have seen many of them couldn't be too bothered by it all and nearly half of them didn't even vote . Of those that did a little under a quarter thought it might be a bit of a laugh to vote for Mr Farage’s shallow and prejudiced mob of a Party. It was a tease as much as a protest and the best thing to do if somebody is teasing you is to turn the other cheek and keep your integrity. Let’s see if David Cameron, in particular, does this.   


At 8:32 pm , Blogger Carol Hedges said...

I'm not sure whether to be delighted that the Tories came third, or horrified that the BNP -oops Ukip came second. Possibly, being a multi-tasker, I am both.

Extremely worrying that in a times of economic depression, we see the rise of right wing zenophobic parties ...recalls Germany in the 1930's. Cold shiver....


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