So, Labour kept the seat and the Tories came fourth (and didn't multiply), after UKIP. But while the drama was being played out in Hartlepool, I was ensconced in a hotel in the South East, attending a private seminar on political corruption – and therefore out of Blogging range. My thanks to my colleague for keeping the Blog going.
That leaves the political question of what next. The broadcast media haw had it go and later today we will see what the broadsheets have to say. But my more or less immediate response is that we are now in uncharted territory.
Traditionally, by-elections are natural events for voters to register a protest and than certainly happened. With the Lib-Dims scoring 10,719 votes to Labour’s 12,752, there were protests aplenty.
But what, I believe, made Hartlepool different was that there was not one protest vote but two. Largely, the Lib-Dim vote was a protest against the government, but the other protest vote was against the official opposition – and that went to UKIP. Thus, I do not think that people were voting for UKIP, as such, but against the Tories.
Politically, this is probably unique, and I suspect it is a direct reaction to Howard’s response to the Euro-elections, when he made the rather incautious statement that the then UKIP voters would come back to the fold for the next elections. I remember at the time hearing some UKIP voters saying to the effect, that, "we’ve kicked him once, and if he isn’t going to take any notice of us, we’ll have to do it again". The voters of Hartlepool – or some of them – have indeed kicked him again.
All the indications are that this could happen again in the general election, which puts Howard and his party in a dire position. It is becoming very clear that, until he commits to withdrawal from the EU – even if it is as a precursor to renegotiation – he is not going to recover the Eurosceptic vote.
But, so the perceived wisdom goes, if he makes the concession to the Eurosceptics, he will loose the centre, and go down for a different reason. Altogether it looks like a lose-lose situation – the Toriers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.