There were eight by-elections on October 2nd, and once again they brought little cheer for the BNP's increasingly downhearted and empty-pocketed membership.
In Oswestry, Swale (Kent), Taunton and Leominster the electorate were happily spared the attentions of the BNP. In the Witham West ward of Braintree Council they had a lucky escape when the newest BNP celebrity candidate, "somebody whose late father used to be on the telly", decided not to fly their flag after all.
Their headline performance was in Bourne, Lincolnshire. This was a ward in which they probably entertained some hopes of a good performance for several reasons:
- their Lincolnshire organisation seems (by their own pretty low standards!) to be a reasonably active and almost competent operation;
- as a small market town, with a strong local civic tradition now subsumed into a larger district and even larger county authority, it might be expected to have a demographic that might be favourable (as seen in places like Melton Mowbray or Leek - which elected a BNP councillor this May);
- when last contested (2005) it was a straight Tory-Labour fight, with only a moderate Conservative majority. This time there were seven candidates, and the prospect of even a modest share of the vote being enough for victory;
- there was an energetic BNP campaign effort with three leaflets being delivered to most properties. The Conservatives aside, it is unlikely that any of the other parties saw this as a winnable seat, and their campaigns were probably limited.
Elsewhere they did even worse. In the Kirkleatham ward of Redcar & Cleveland Unitary Authority they took just 5.8% as the Lib Dems gained the seat from Labour with a huge swing. And in the West Ruislip ward of Hillingdon London Borough we saw the BNP and the National Front going head to head. The former took 4.3%, the latter 2.0%.
Another bad day at the office for the BNP.
There's one other point worth making. Turnouts in local by-elections can vary enormously, sometimes above 50% in keenly-contested bouts and dropping to around 10% on other occasions. Under such circumstances it can be instructive to calculate percentage share of the electorate in addition to percentage share of the vote. Applying this to this week's results (and combining the far-right vote in Ruislip) gives:
It seems to me (and further research may be worthwhile) that across much of the country there is a 2-3% share of the electorate which inclines to the far-right. This is in accord with such polling as manages to identify BNP support at all! And this "core vote" of far-right support will generally turn out if a BNP candidate is offered. If this is correct, and if the figures aren't skewed by the media/commentators "talking up" the BNP in 2009 in the way that UKIP was "talked up" in 2004, then there is a stark message for next year's Euro elections.
If the BNP's core vote is 3% of the electorate, and the turnout is 40% - they get 7.5% of the vote and MEPs are very unlikely.
But if the turnout is only 30% they get 10% - and a BNP MEP or two becomes a distinct possibility.
If the turnout falls to 25% - they get 12%...