It was always obvious Labour were going to win Barnsley Central – but the result sends a clear message to the Coalition and the Conservative Party on their failure to deal with the European issue.
The Conservatives lost out in the 2010 General Election because, amongst other factors, the intervention of UKIP costs us 21 seats – and on that basis we did not get a Conservative Government. This is well established. But now, under the Coalition Agreement, the Liberal Democrats (“the sixth placers”) are wagging the Conservative tail on constitutional matters and on European issues.
Labour got 14,724 votes in this by-election, extending their majority slightly – yet the turnout fell to 36.5%, compared with 56.4% in the 2010 General Election. To be clear: the real Barnsley message is one of trend and although the votes cast were low, the reality is that the total Coalition vote was only 12.4% and yet the UKIP vote as an independent party was 12.2%. The BNP, focusing mainly on immigration, achieved 6% (imagine the difference with AV).
The result shows that the Conservative Party needs to think carefully about what is going to happen in marginal seats.
Despite protestations on the European front, it is clear that on immigration and Europe we are not only failing to make progress but we are going firmly backwards. After all, the Conservatives are acquiescing in EU economic governance, ECHR rulings and the Government supporting its Motion on Financial Sector (Taxation) that the United Kingdom Government and Parliament decisions on “direct taxes” are only “primarily” – rather than ‘solely’ – a matter for sovereign governments and voting against my amendments on the sovereignty of Parliament in relation to the EU Bill.
Imagine what people would think of these issues in light of the Barnsley trend if they had been even been mentioned by the BBC.
The Commons vote on the European Court of Human Rights decision in relation to prisoner voting demonstrates the feelings, but we have so much legislation going through within a strong European framework – the Protection of Freedoms Bill endorses ECHR rulings – that we need to take a strong stand on to convince the electorate.
Conservative MPs do know what they stand for but the EU Bill is coming up to Report stage on Tuesday and the electoral trend here is clear – it is against the Coalition on Europe-related issues and for a strong Eurorealist position of the kind adopted by the Eurorealists in the House of Commons and outside in the Conservative Party and the country at large.