Richard North, 07/06/2019  
 


On the eve of the Peterborough count, Ladbrokes was giving Farage's party odds of 1/5 to win the seat. Labour were second on 7/2, with the Lib Dems and Tories both at 50/1. In what must be the understatement of the moment, a Labour source told The Sun , "It's going to be very tricky".

Anticipating victory, Farage was doing his "Hubris-R-Us" impression, declaring that D-Day should be known as "democracy day" if his party made history and won the seat. One might infer from this that the man has an inflated ego the size of the planet, if he thinks he should take over the title of the largest amphibious operation in history.

Said The Sun, that victory would mean Farage's new party entering the Commons for the first time - just months after it was founded - in a massive blow to both Labour and the Tories. Farage was thus declaring that: "For Peterborough to elect their first Brexit Party MP on D-Day would be hugely symbolic - it would be democracy day". He added: "It's clearly a two horse race, between us and Labour. But it feels pretty good".

Farage, with untypical modesty, came in the back door to the count, telling Sky News that he had "no idea" how things were going, fuelling expectations that a victory was proving elusive.

Just after ten in the evening, Britain Elects was saying that Farage Party activists were "conceding defeat, telling us Labour's probably just pipped it". But, by one in the morning, the pundits were saying that the result was "too close to call".

Shortly after that, Sky News said it had been told by Farage activists that his party had lost the by-election by fewer than 500 votes, and they would be calling for a re-count.

The only firm information we had by that time, though, was the turnout (courtesy of Britain Elects), reported at 48.4 percent. That compared with the 2017 general election which delivered 67.5 percent. As with the European elections, Farage the "insurgent" had failed to galvanise the oppressed masses, who had spurned his invitation to flock to the polls.

Thus, we have just another by-election, a form of spectator sport unique to British politics, where fifteen candidates had lined up to play. This included Ukip, a party which had picked up 15.9 percent of the vote in 2015, the last time it had fielded a candidate.

Before the declaration, which came minutes before two am, Farage – who had been hiding in a back room, out of sight of reporters – was reported to have left the building. A smiling Lisa Forbes had taken the seat for Labour with 10,484 votes compared with 9,801 for Farage's party – a margin of 683. Farage wasn't even going to get a recount.

Interestingly, Ukip polled a mere 400 votes. But even with splitting the "insurgent" vote, the combined total would not have given the Farage party a seat. But another interesting – and significant point – is that the winning margin was higher than the 2017 general election, on a lower turnout. Then, the now disgraced Fiona Onasanya beat her Conservative rival by only 613 votes.

As for the Tories, this time round, they actually came third with 7,243 votes, ahead of the Lib-Dems who were predicting they might take the third place.

Combining the Farage and Tory votes, at 17,044, and assuming that the Farage party had taken a disproportionate number of Tory votes, one can safely assume that we are looking at a result tainted by the Ukip effect.

But for the intervention of Farage, the Tories might well have gained the seat – and especially as Labour seems to have been galvanised by the Farage threat and pulled out all the stops to pull its voters in. But to have succeeded in these circumstances, when the by-election was occasioned by removal of the incumbent on a recall petition, says something for the performance of the party.

The share of the votes is quite interesting. Labour gets 30.9 percent, with a turnout of 48.3 percent. That only gives Forbes a mandate from 14.9 percent of the electorate. A majority, this is not. We have representative democracy in name only, with the MP gaining the support of less than a sixth of the electorate.

The Farage party, coming second, took 28.9 percent of the vote – just 14 percent of the electorate (after polling 26 percent in a YouGov poll, against Labour's 20 percent). Anyone looking for evidence of a mass movement, capturing the enthusiastic support of the populace, won't find it here. Despite massive media coverage, and exposure that the other parties would have killed for, Farage has added only two points to his European election performance.

Looking at how the vote changed since the 2017 election, we can confirm that a Ukip effect was in play. The Labour share of the vote had dropped 17.2 percent while the Tories had lost 25.4 percent of their vote. The Lib-Dems had gained nine percent, the bulk of which may have come from Labour, while most of the displaced Tory votes must have gone to Farage.

Apart from anything else, one might note in the response of the Farage party, the contrast with the pre-election hubris. With Farage hiding away during the count, his party failed to put up a spokesman immediately after the vote had been declared. Richard Tice was seen slinking away, with nothing to say for himself.

Excuses there were aplenty, with anonymous "senior officials" complaining that they didn't have the time to get ready for the election, and didn't have the infrastructure to bring in the vote. And there may be some truth in that – although the Lib-Dems, famed for their skill in fighting by-elections, didn't do so well.

However, if the sheer weight of publicity was ever going to have an effect, this was going to be the time. For a general election, it gets harder and the competition is tougher. We may just have seen the high water mark of the Farage "insurrection".

Nevertheless, we can almost guarantee that the Tories will read it wrong. They will continue to exaggerate the threat, arguing that the turd-giver is the only man who can see off Farage and deliver Brexit, with a no-deal departure on 31 October.

In fact, as with the European elections, this result demonstrates not how much support Farage (and the no-deal scenario) has, but how little. In the 2016 referendum, this constituency overwhelmingly backed "leave" with 61 percent of the vote on a 72.4 percent turnout. Yet, representing no-deal as he does, all Farage can now muster is 28.9 percent on a turnout of 48.3 percent.

Furthermore, there can be little doubt that this was a "Brexit" election. Voters opting for the Farage party were clearly not of a view that they would get better local representation on local issues in the Commons. This by-election was an opportunity to make a statement about the Brexit process – specifically to cast a vote for a no-deal exit. And only 14 percent of the electorate, in a strongly "leave" area, took that opportunity.

For all that, apologists claim that this is a good result for an eight-week-old party. But that is to neglect the fact that "brand Farage" has been going for 25 years. And once again it has bombed in a by-election, as it always does. His "insurgency" motivated a mere 14 percent of the electorate to turn out and vote for him. Evidence of a mass movement, this is not. Success, this is not.

If there is anything to take home from this result, therefore, it is that Farage's greatest threat in a general election is likely to be expressed via the Ukip effect, giving the contest to Corbyn. "Vote Farage, get Corbyn", needs to be the Tory slogan. And, for a new leader, the Tories need someone who can galvanise the swing vote, something which Johnson is unlikely to do. He may score better with ex-Tories against Corbyn, but the victory goes to the leader who can attract the swing vote.

But more to the point, the "Ukip effect" is the confounding factor. If nothing else, Peterborough points to a Labour victory at the next general election, courtesy of the hubristic Mr Farage. But at least we get to keep D day. It is not going to be "democracy day" after all. Or perhaps it is.






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