‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Road to Clacton Pier - a new departure or a well-worn path?

UKIP won the Clacton by-election with a swing of 44.1%. It is certainly newsworthy as it gives UKIP the party’s first elected MP.

In terms of record by-election swings, the Clacton result is the second highest swing recorded. The highest was from Labour to the Liberals in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election, where Simon Hughes achieved a swing of 44.2%.

If you look at a list of the highest by-election swings, all have been against the Labour or Conservative Party. Most of the record swings have been to minor parties – Liberals or Liberal Democrats, SNP, Respect and now to UKIP. So, in many respects the Clacton result is another near-record breaker in a long list of significant by-election swings from the two largest parties to a minor party. You have to go down the list to number 7, and as far back as the 1935 Liverpool Wavertree by-election, before you find a straight swing between the two largest parties appearing on the list. This was a swing of 30% from Conservative to Labour.

The trend for votes to move steadily away from the major parties is a long-established pattern, going back well over half a century. In the 1951 general election Labour and the Conservatives won a combined share of the vote of 96.8%. The drift away from these two parties has been fairly steady since then to only 65.1% in the 2010 election.

Smaller parties have been chipping away at the dominance of the two largest parties for a long time and by-elections have played a part in this process. The House of Commons now has a record number of parties represented – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, DUP, SNP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Alliance, Green, Respect and now UKIP – a total of 12 parties, plus three independents and the Speaker. In the 1950s there were just 4.

So, UKIP’s victory at Clacton is a significant result, but in many ways just another step along an established path.

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