I suppose the art of political spin is attempting to make a failure look like a success, or, indeed, a defeat look like a victory. That’s what the old tired establishment parties do after they’ve been defeated in a by election or something along those lines.
They try to claim black is white and white is black and in the meantime make themselves look disingenuous at best, downright ridiculous in reality. So therefore before I start writing about the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner election – a campaign I was closely associated with – I want to make it clear that I am not spinning. In fact, the first way to confirm I’m not spinning is to admit that I feel absolutely gutted by the result, although I also must say that I wasn’t surprised.
I must also admit to being confused as to why people would go out and vote for another Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) when the last one had to stand down in the wake of the Rotherham grooming scandal.
Indeed, when asked by a journalist what I thought of the result, I told her it reminded me of Einstein’s theory of insanity, which basically says that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. In my opinion, this is precisely what the people of South Yorkshire who voted Labour on Thursday have done and I suspect the result will be the same.
A number of political journalists and commentators have suggested that UKIP should have won this seat and that we had somehow thrown it away. I’ve read claims that we chose the wrong candidate (with Jack Clarkson being a former police officer), that we underestimated the postal vote and that we ran a cynical campaign which focussed too heavily on the Rotherham grooming scandal, which in turn turned people off. I believe all three of these suggestions are wrong.
Personally, I think the fact that our candidate was a former policeman was a boon rather than a bane. I think if people were asked whether they would want their PCC to be a former policeman with beat experience or a politician, and the political affiliations were removed, the former bobby would win every time.
Also the idea that we underestimated the importance of the postal vote is simply preposterous because we and the Labour Party were the only ones to write personally to every postal voter in South Yorkshire. And finally, I make no apologies for making an issue of what went on in Rotherham.
The fact that a Labour council and Labour councillors seemingly stood by whilst young girls were being sexually assaulted on an industrial scale makes this a political issue and one that should not be allowed to be ‘brushed under the carpet’ again.
I also want to ‘put to bed’ the idea that UKIP was somehow the favourite to win this election because to suggest so underestimates just how strong Labour is in South Yorkshire. This is their heartland and where their leader has his seat.
It is made up of old mining communities where the excesses of the 1980s are not only remembered, but actively played upon by Labour. Indeed, if the raw figures are taken into consideration, the size of the challenge that faced UKIP in this PCC election is staggering. South Yorkshire covers eleven parliamentary constituencies and ten are held by Labour.
It encompasses four separate council areas (Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster), which too are all run by Labour and out of a possible 275 council seats across the county, Labour holds 209. In other words, this is as red as it gets.
It must also be remembered that this was not a parliamentary by election where we had to reach around 70,000 electors. This was something on a far greater scale. There were over 1 million voters who had to be reached and over 200,000 of them had been registered for a postal vote, which makes things even more difficult, especially when campaigning in Labour’s heartland.
We learnt this the hard way in both the previous Barnsley and Rotherham by elections. Once I heard that the postal vote turnout had been 51 percent, I knew that an uphill battle had become a mountain to climb.
I also knew it would be more difficult because the Liberal Democrats had decided not to stand a candidate. This undoubtedly played into Labour’s hands because we had learnt from knocking on the doors in Heywood and Middleton that the vast bulk of Liberal Democrats were switching to Labour.
Indeed, a Labour MP, who I met on the doors campaigning in that by election, confirmed this to be the case. If the same trend was followed in the South Yorkshire PCC election, and I have no reason to believe it didn’t, this might help explain why Labour’s strongest result was in Sheffield, the home of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
However, I still clung to the belief that the electoral system was to our advantage in this election. I knew that we could not beat Labour on the first round of voting because they were too entrenched in certain parliamentary seats and in the council chambers, but I believed if we got them into a second round then we were in with a good chance.
To force the second round, whereby the second preference votes would start to be counted, we had to prevent Labour from reaching 50 percent in the first round. I believed that this was possible, as the disgraced Shaun Wright had only got 51 percent in 2012 and I could not imagine that their percentage would actually rise. I thought that if we were within 10 percent behind Labour going into a second round, then we had a genuine chance because I was convinced that Conservative and English Democrat voters would give their second preferences to UKIP.
In the end, Labour scraped over the line and avoided the second round by a mere 28 votes. Yes, that’s right, a mere 28 votes from an electorate of over a million people. A recount was bizarrely denied. Labour had polled 50.02 percent to UKIP’s 31.66 percent. The Tories and English Democrats came in a distant third and fourth respectively.
I believe that if we had gained 4 percent and Labour had lost 4 percent, then we would have won on the second round, making the margin of winning and losing this election a lot closer than what the initial first round figures suggest. Turnout was an appalling 14 percent, which I suspect will put the final nail in the coffin for future PCC elections. The turnout on the day was even more shocking, so much so that over 80 percent of the votes cast in this election came via a postal voting system which is wide open to industrial electoral fraud.
A friend of mine said after the result that ‘UKIP keeps hitting the post in the North of England’ and that’s exactly how it feels after Heywood and Middleton and now South Yorkshire. This was a good effort and we came close, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.
However, we must put this result in perspective. In the original South Yorkshire PCC election in 2012, we scored 11.54 percent and finished in fourth place. Two years on we have leapt to 31.66 percent and second place, which I suggest shows significant progress is being made.
Moreover, the fact that Conservatives finished a distant third only serves to show that they have been replaced by UKIP as Labour’s main opposition in the north. For ourselves, we must learn to stop hitting the post and start converting these good efforts into great goals, and I am convinced that one day soon we will.