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There were four byelections due to be held on September 4th. One was unopposed (Conservative), and one in deepest West Sussex seems to have vanished (perhaps they're still counting !!).
Two results are to hand; and both featured BNP candidates. The first was in a Melton Mowbray ward of Melton District Council in East Leicestershire, an urban - and relatively deprived - area in a broadly affluent and rural part of Britain. It was a ward with some history of BNP activity, their having taken a share of around 28-29% of the vote in May 2007 (precise figures are difficult in multi-member elections). And of course the East Midlands has probably been the BNP's most effective region electorally in recent times, even after the purging of Graham and her Decembrist allies.
My initial reaction to the result was one of shock - Labour 314, BNP 236, Conservative 177. That is too, too close for comfort. However, the figures repay closer attention. The percentages were 43.2%, 32.5% and 24.3%. If Labour can poll 43.2%, even in their present state of national unpopularity, then they will take some beating. For the BNP to overtake that figure the Conservative share would need to fall to 13.5% or lower. Equally, if just 30 BNP voters switched to the Tories then the BNP would fall to third place!
Sources close to the far-right suggest that Labour ran an effective polling day organisation. Good! Now, if the Conservatives could be persuaded to up their game in the ward as well the BNP could find themselves increasingly marginalised.
Oh, and the change in share of the vote from May 2007 is also significant, if difficult to calculate (!) because of the multiple candidacies that time round. Basically the Labour share dropped by around 4.5%, BNP up 4%, Conservatives up around 0.5%. Given what has happened to Labour over the past 18 months, and that this was one of the key BNP byelection prospects this year, the far-right must be disappointed that their advance was so limited.
To summarise - a worrying and depressing result, BUT even so with results like this it's becoming hard to see where the next BNP byelection gain is going to appear!
The other byelection was in Barrow, and again offered an opportunity for the BNP. A ward with a strong Independent tradition (36% in May) and no Lib Dem candidate. What happened? The Conservatives held the seat with an increased majority and 50% of the vote; the Labour share dipped a little (--2.5%), the Peoples Party came third, and the BNP came last with 15.1%. Not the derisory vote we prefer to see, but a long, long, long way from any prospect of power or influence.