Friday, July 16, 2004

Can we deduce anything from the by-elections?

We have had several elections in the last couple of months. In the local elections the Conservatives did well, despite media insistence that it was all about Iraq; in the European elections UKIP did well, despite media insistence that it was all about Iraq and in the two by-elections the Lib-Dems did well with the media finally apparently justified in its insistence that it is all about Iraq. The one thing we can deduce from that is that the media is obsessed with a need to show that political life in this country revolves around the war in Iraq.

The other thing we can deduce is that the electorate is seriously angry with the government on a number of issues – the handling of the war in Iraq being one, relatively unimportant one. It is also angry with the entire political class and is out to punish whoever happens to be in power.

It is possible that in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill, with their large ethnic minorities the feelings about the war run very high. It is equally possible feelings about public services run even higher. The Respect Party saving its deposit in both places is relatively unimportant with the low turn-out one always gets in by-elections.

However, it will be most unwise for the main parties to think that all they need to do is to justify or attack the war in Iraq and “hey presto” they will do well in the general elections. For there will be many issues, not least the “elephant in the room”, our membership of the European Union, the Constitution, the frustration most people in the country feel about the whole political process: that it really does not matter whom we elect if more than 80 per cent of our legislation comes from Brussels and there is nothing either our Parliament or our law courts can do about it.

Compared to that, the Iraq war and the Butler report – a Westminster village story if ever there was one – are politically unimportant.

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