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Sunday 16 June 2013

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UKIP challenge for Labour - and TUSC - in council by-elections

TWO RECENT council by-elections in Southampton and Newcastle have underlined the mounting challenge to Labour posed by UKIP.

They have also confirmed that translating the support that exists for TUSC's anti-austerity message into votes is not simple or straight-forward when the underlying anger at the establishment parties has an alternative outlet.

UKIP had not stood a candidate in Newcastle's Walkergate ward or Southampton's Woolston ward the last time these seats were contested in full council elections in May 2012, but came through to finish second in both seats this time.

Labour held on to win but with substantially fewer votes, and a lower percentage share, than in 2012.

In Newcastle, Labour's vote fell from 1,912 (68%) in 2012 to 1,080 now (44%). In Southampton Labour went from 1,607 (55%) in 2012 to 864 (33%) - the first time they had polled fewer than 1,000 votes in Woolston, even when the Liberal Democrats won a seat there back in 2003.

Voter turnout - the usual reason given to explain council by-election results - was not to blame for Labour's performance.

It did fall in both seats, from 39% to 34% in Newcastle and from 29% to 26% in Southampton (the majority of electors did not vote in 2012 or 2013) but it does not disguise the fact that both contests repeated the recent message from the May local elections of a turning away from the establishment parties, the Tories and Liberal Democrats and Labour too.

In both seats in 2012 the 'big three' parties picked up 95% plus of the vote - in 2013 their share had fallen to around 65%, with UKIP the chief beneficiary.

This was the context in which TUSC stood, with the result in Southampton especially creditable, polling ahead of both the Liberal Democrats and Greens.

TUSC had stood widely in Southampton in the 2011 and 2012 local elections, including in Woolston, and our percentage share rose slightly to 5.1%.

The ratio of Labour to TUSC voters narrowed dramatically from eleven to one in 2012 - for every elector who voted for TUSC there were eleven Labour voters then - to six to one now.

But many disgruntled Labour voters, of course, seeing the media promotion of UKIP, responded to their leaflets' message that 'only UKIP can beat Labour in Woolston'.

There will be many more local elections and by-elections in Labour-controlled councils, like Southampton and Newcastle, who are feeding anger by implementing the Con-Dem government's cuts.

A mass movement against austerity, including community campaigns to stop bedroom tax evictions and strike action by the trade unions, is the main way that UKIP's 'anti-establishment' positioning will be challenged. But taking them on at the ballot box is also part of the battle.

Southampton council by-election Woolston ward (June 13):

Labour 864; UKIP 731; Conservatives 704; TUSC 136 (5.1%); Liberal Democrats 120; Green 107

Newcastle council by-election Walkergate ward (June 6):

Labour 1,080; UKIP 668; Liberal Democrats 460; Independent 64; Newcastle First 61; Conservatives 54; Green 30; TUSC 24 (1%); Independent 12