October 05, 2007

Shepshed by-election - no BNP advance, but...

The one local by-election of any note this week took place in Shepshed, an outlier of Loughborough, for a seat on Leicestershire County Council.

Though the BNP has never previously contested for this LCC seat, Shepshed also comprises two Charnwood District Council wards that the BNP did fight in the May elections, and so it is possible (with reservations) to measure last night's result against the combined BNP result achieved in May.

Before going on to that, it's worth noting that north-west Leicestershire (and Leicester itself) have long been areas of activist strength for the far-Right, the city of Leicester and nearby Loughborough both being strong bases for the National Front in the 1970's. The NF never made a breakthrough despite its best efforts, but the racist tradition has endured through to the present day, producing some unpleasant surprises in the May local elections.

Two BNP councillors were elected in Coalville, to the south-west of Loughborough, and a third to Charnwood District Council, which has relevance to last night's performance. Over the area of north-west Leicestershire generally the BNP peformed strongly in May, quite against the grain of their indifferent overall showing elsewhere, and in the Charnwood DC area did particularly well.

The sole BNP councillor on Charnwood District Council is Catherine Ann Duffy, elected (by a margin of seven votes) for the East Goscote ward. So far as we can tell, Cllr. Duffy has never engaged in spousal abuse, publicly asserted that the Holocaust is a lie, or claimed to have seen flying saucers, which makes her something of a rarity among BNP councillors. Whether her atypical conduct had any positive effect on last night's BNP result we cannot say, but we can say that a surface comparison with May's performance in what is essentialy the same ward shows no advance for the BNP.

Combining the May results for Shepshed East and West (Charnwood District Council) gives the following table (percentages on right):

Lab 1139 24.55
Con 1427 30.75
LibDem 1092 23.53
BNP 982 21.16

Total 4640

Thursday's result for Shepshed division (Leicestershire Country Council):

Lab 1217 30.19
Con 1074 26.64
LibDem 933 23.15
BNP 807 20.02

Total 4031

The turnout was 37%.

Despite coming last, and despite a slight apparent vote loss, Shepshed was an area in which the BNP had high expectations: and though we can take some small satisfaction that again there was no BNP advance, still less a breakthrough, there are two important points to note.

The first is the closeness of the contest - just 10% separating first and last places. The second is that the BNP did not canvass a single home, but relied entirely on saturation leafletting. As we can see from the tightness of the Shepshed contest, it would not have taken too many votes to have been drawn away from the Labour and Conservative parties to have given the BNP a respectable second place, and this is something they may well have achieved had they conducted a half-way professional campaign that involved serious door-knocking.

If we're thinking that, then so are they.

There does appear to be a contiguous swathe of small-town central England comprising west and north-west Leicestershire, south Derbyshire and north Warwickshire where the BNP is still capable of bringing off surprising performances. We would do well to keep our eyes on this and to work out why it is happening.


Anonymous said...

They fell back marginally but I think you're right that with a proper camapaign they could have done better. This is an odd area that's been bucking the trend for a while, so we've got to get our fingers out here.

Anonymous said...

Generally your analysis is correct. However the key reason that they do so well in the NW and W Leicestershire area is beacuse there seems to be little opposition. In Shepshed only one anti-fascist leaflet went out, and that as an eve of poll and generally it was really difficult to get anyone to take the BNP standing seriously. None of the major political parties wanted to know and even local anti-racist organisations didn't see it as an issue.

In Derbyshire there is at least some core of campaigning whereas in Leicestershire there seems to be a mass "lets ignore it attitude". It really is the area where they are in a good position to make major gains .