In among all the hype and hoopla following the appearance of some bloke from the BNP on some late-night television programme, I thought it would be interesting to review BNP performance over the past few months, from the beginning of July (as the effects of the Euro elections started to ease off) to the end of October.
During that period there were no fewer than 94 local authority byelections; the BNP fought 26 (28%). There is some evidence that their ability to field candidates has weakened. In July they fought eight seats out of twenty-three (35%); in August 2/9 (22%); September 8/24 (33%); October 8/38 (21%). Perhaps eight is their magic number above which they cannot climb!
Seventeen of the 94 wards had seen a BNP candidate at a recent previous election. No fewer than seven of these were abandoned at the byelection, a very significant feature, and which underlines one of the party's greatest weaknesses - its inability to maintain activist interest and commitment. In three of these wards they had previously polled in excess of 14% of the vote, so it's not just a case of walking away from hopeless areas.
There are therefore ten seats in which a comparison can be made with their performance in (normally) the preceding election. In nine of these their vote share fell. The only exception was the rather unusual Boston byelection on 15th October where their vote share leapt from 20.6% in June to 37.7% in October. They may well have benefitted from the unusual circumstances of the vacancy, and the withdrawal of UKIP and a local Independent Group from the fray (who had taken 15.6% in June), but it still represented a good night for the BNP and a worryingly close result for the rest of us (they finished just 16 votes adrift of the victorious Conservative candidate).
That, however, was the only good news for the BNP. In every other contest their share of the vote fell. I have illustrated this by listing the percentage of vote share retained (PVSR). It is easier to give an example than to define this idea. If they previously took 40% and now took 20% then the PVSR would be 50; if they polled 10% then the PVSR would be 25. An increased share of the vote would give a PVSR of 100+. I have used this technique rather than the more usual change in vote share as the latter is difficult to set in context. Under change in vote share a fall from 28% to 23% 'looks' the same as 10% to 5%, whereas it's actually a very different outcome.
So, excluding the Boston result (PVSR 183!), the PVSR in the remaining nine seats was: 58 54 64 53 46 42 62 59 77
In only one case did their vote share fall by less than a quarter; in two cases their vote share fell by more than half. On average they lost 43% of their vote share in these wards. The samples are pretty small, but the general trend is of performance worsening from July into September, then recovering in October. Whether this recovery is real and sustainable remains to be seen.
They contested 16 'new' seats over the five month period. Looking at some old notes I found that in February 2009 they averaged 22% in 'new' seats (boosted by the extraordinary 41% - and seat gained - in Swanley). The highest share of the vote achieved in a first-time seat in the July to October period was 13.6%! In eight of the wards - precisely half of them - they polled under 10%. A rolling average, based on the five most recent examples, shows a drift downward from 10.5% at the end of July to 9.3% at the end of October.
And so to the seven 'abandoned' seats - wards previously contested, but in which no byelection candidate was fielded. One of these was an inner-city Birmingham seat at which they had previously polled a miserable 1.5% so withdrawal might indicate a rare case of political sense! But in the other six cases only one had a previous vote share under 10%, and three had recorded vote shares between 14 and 16%.
Now I shall leave it to my readers to interpret the above as they see fit, but I feel it indicates a poor summer and early autumn for the BNP. I also feel there are some useful 'benchmarks' against which the party's progress (or regress hopefully!) can be assessed, and I shall suggest the following:
a) percentage of byelections contested each month Oct 09 21%The purpose of a and ai is hopefully obvious; b assesses their ability to continue to maintain activist involvement by contesting elections; c assesses performance in areas of sustained activity; d assesses progress - or otherwise - in opening up new areas; e indicates the effects of member disenchantment, and whether they are simply standing down in weak areas, or struggling in areas of past strength.
ai) two-month rolling average Sep/Oct 26%
b) rate of contesting previously fought seats each month Oct 09 50%
c) percentage share of the vote retained (past 10 byelections but excluding the best and the worst to avoid being affected by 'freak' results under special circumstances) Oct 09 59%
d) rolling average (past 5 results) of vote share in 'new' wards Oct 09 9.3%
e) rolling average (past 5 results) of vote share in 'abandoned' seats Oct 09 11.1%
Good news - from our perspective - would be to see a) ai) b) c) and d) all falling, and e) rising. Anyway, I shall look forward to updating these figures in due course to see whether it does give us a useful tool in assessing their performance.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, the overall BNP performance across the five months was: No Holds, no Gains, one Loss - overall minus 1 seat. Happy days!