David Cameron is going to get smashed on his birthday this year. No, not in the drunken sense, although I wouldn’t blame him if he did that too. But both the Clacton, and Heywood and Middleton by-elections are set for October 9th, and are likely to bring with them no end of bad tidings for the prime minister.
Sure, you wouldn’t particularly expect the Conservative Party to do well in the Labour heartland in Greater Manchester – but Mr Cameron will be watching closely to see how much his party’s share of the decreases in the area. Traditionally the Tories have taken between 25 and 35 percent of the vote in the constituency.
In nearby Rotherham, the Tories enjoyed an average of 18.1 percent of the vote, excluding a by-election in 1994 which left them with just 9.9 percent. In the 2012 Rotherham by-election however, the Tories barely held onto their deposit, scraping just 5.4 percent of the vote and coming in fifth place. In Heywood and Middleton, the Tories will be nervous about headlines related to a similar eventuality. And in Clacton, the game is over for Cameron’s Conservatives, with UKIP’s Douglas Carswell set to sweep in with over 50 percent of the vote.
But Labour will have their share of problems in Heywood too, specifically considering the standard “UKIP are racist” left-whinge is already devoid of credibility, while their own candidate, Liz McInnes, recently worked closely alongside a former BNP member, Trevor Maxfield, in her position in the Blackburn and Darwen Labour Party.
This is already a constituency whereby the local residents are becoming deeply disillusioned with their elected Labour councillors, as well as their Labour MPs. The impact of the Rotherham child rape scandal has echoed throughout the region, and speaking to locals you soon realise that they rightly lay the blame at the feet of key Labour figures including the council leader Roger Stone, who fell on his sword almost immediately, and Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who decided that clinging onto power for as long as possible was the best idea in the world.
The local Labour Party have already begun to demonise UKIP with untruths about the party’s policy on taxation, the NHS, and more. But the ‘raaaaccccissssttt’ narrative will look desperate and hypocritical given McInnes’s close working relationship with Maxfield. The former BNP man was welcomed with open arms into the local Labour Party – a cynical move predicated on the strong BNP vote in the area in 2005 and 2010. According to one source, the thought process was so deeply entrenched that Labour even made Maxfield the Mayor of Darwen in an attempt to whitewash (pun intended) his past.
Maxfield had a long history with the BNP. He was appointed local organiser by no less a person than then BNP leader Nick Griffin back in 2004 when he was described by his predecessor as being one of the ‘drug dealers and football hooligans’ who made up the local branch of the BNP.
He didn’t defect straight to Labour though – first he joined the white supremacist ‘England First Party’. Of course, had he been a member of UKIP, we’d have read about all this on the front page[s] of the Mirror and the Guardian, and Hope not Hate and [Unite Against Fascism] would have been picketing his house.
But, since he eventually joined Labour, that’s alright then. As a fellow Labour councillor said when he was made cabinet member for culture, “To be fair to Trevor, he’s quite a good bloke. I think his BNP stuff is in the past”. Not that far in the past, as he is pictured at a ‘Heritage & Destiny’ meeting in Bradford in 2006 with various other luminaries of the far right, including Eddy Morrison and Dave Smith.
[It is] a strange world indeed where Maxfield is not just accepted but promoted within the Labour Party despite his far right links, while he would not even qualify for membership of UKIP because of his past associations.
Jim Dobbin, who passed away leading up to this by-election, was popular as an older man who had surprisingly traditional views for a Labour MP. His opposition to same sex marriage, as well as his well documented Catholicism made him appealing to many local voters who do not necessarily buy in to the Guardian-reading, liberal left definition of what it means to stand up for the working man.
And while the area is no stranger to the patriotic, even nationalistic voter, the BNP has all but collapsed in the area, and many of its former voters have moderated their views and will now vote UKIP. If the Labour Party attempts to lob the racist grenade into the UKIP camp, it will likely explode in their faces. Firstly, because local voters really don’t give a hoot. And secondly, because people will immediately see the hypocrisy in the fact that they have their own BNP talisman.
I’m not saying having a former BNP man in the local Labour Party will harm it. It almost certainly will not. But the hypocrisy of local campaigners defaulting to their most tired tactics with Farage and Co will make them seem two-faced.
It is in fact conceivable that UKIP pulls off another, seemingly unthinkable coup, this time in a Labour heartland. If that happens, or even if a “strong second” is achieved, then Labour’s iron grip over vast swathes of the English north may finally be broken. The fact that it wouldn’t be the Conservative Party that broke it will send chills down Tory election strategists’ spines.