Friday, June 30, 2006

March of the Minnows

Bob Neil, the Bromley victor - but only justThe two by-elections, at Bromley and Blaenau Gwent have the political classes twittering, but with the turnouts respectively 40.5 (down 24.3 percent from the general) and 51.7 percent (-14.4 percent), it is clear that neither election set the political process alight.

The "shock" result, if you can call it that, was the poor showing of the Bromley Conservative candidate, Bob Neill, who only just got in with 11,621 votes against a strong challenge from the Lib-Dims, slashing the general election majority of 13,342 to 633

But what is especially interesting is the Bromley result. UKIP came third, beating Labour into fourth place, taking 2347 votes, but collectively, the eight minority parties polled 4,518 votes.

The cumulative effect of these minority parties is now getting quite significant and was definitely a factor in the last general election, where the UKIP/Veritas vote exceeded the Labour majority over the Conservatives in 28 seats, undoubtedly costing the Tories a significant number of seats.

Then there were the recent Council elections where not only did the BNP romp home in Barking and Dagenham but came in second in Bradford with 27.5 percent of the vote in the wards which they contested.

It is always dangerous to extrapolate results from by-elections, but the "minnow" phenomenon is beginning to become well-established, where many of those who are prepared to turn out to vote are so disillusioned with the established parties that they are prepared to vote for minority parties. And, of course, in Blaenau Gwent, the independent candidate won.

What we are almost certainly seeing, therefore, is not a rejection of politics but a turning away from the established party politics. Political issues have never been more closely and actively argued, but the established parties are simply not part of the debate.

Of this, I can vouch personally. In all the years I have been writing about the EU and political issues generally, I have never experienced so many personal messages and discussion as I have over the intensely political issue of the inadequate equipment provided for our armed forces in Iraq. Furthermore, this has been reflected in a marked increase in the “hits” for this blog, in the unprecedented level of interest in our forum thread and the nearly 11,000 “hits” on the unofficial Army forum thread.

In all, this should not come as a surprise as, in February this year, we reported on a Mori poll which put "defence/foreign affairs/terrorism” as the most important issues facing Britain today, giving a 34 percent response compared with the NHS/Hospitals at 33 percent.

By contrast, last weekend I attended a Conservative Party function with 450 party members crammed into a huge tent, where the discussion was "David Cameron this" and "David Cameron that" and how we must all fall in behind "our new leader".

More than one person, however, remarked to me of the high average age of those present, one suggesting sadly that we were looking at a party on the verge of extinction. Posing the question, why are younger people no longer interested in politics, my rejoinder was that they are – they are simply not interested in your brand of party politics.

The problem, I declared in my grand manner which (rightly) infuriates so many people, was that the established political parties have become so introspective that they are now only interested in themselves. That much is glaringly evident from the Tory Boy Blog. My remedy was equally straightforward. Start taking an interest in the things that ordinary people are interested in, and they will take an interest in you.

Until then, I suspect we will see the continued onwards march of the minnows.


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