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.
If you look at a list of the highest by-election swings, http://bit.ly/1rkUUYX 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.