Reaction to Dearne North

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Yesterday Yorkshire First recorded its best ever election performance gaining 10% of the vote in the Dearne North by-election to Barnsley Council. This is a ward we have never ever stood in and one which has always elected Labour councillors by massive majorities. In a ward where UKIP polled 37% of the vote in 2014 and 27% in May, we finished 3rd just 25 votes behind UKIP. In a seat which has never not elected a Labour councillor by a large majority, Labour won comfortably. Were the electorate of Dearne North sending a Labour councillor back to Barnsley council on the crest of a Labour-revivalist wave? I don’t think so. This is the bit where the Labour brethren will start squealing sour grapes.
They will say they won comfortably and by vote share they certainly did. Considering their history in this ward, the resources (financial and people-wise) they had to expend on the campaign and the fact that Barnsley is, more or less, a one-party state, you’d have expected Labour to romp to victory. However I don’t believe that 817 votes in a rock-solid safe Labour seat is exactly a ‘romp to victory’.
Only 15% of the people of Thurnscoe and North East Goldthorpe bothered to vote. This is a tragedy for democracy but unfortunately not a surprising one. This turnout speaks volumes for the broken electoral system we have in this country and the total and utter ambivalence the people of Dearne North (and I would suspect other wards) have towards the one-party Barnsley Labour fiefdom. We spoke to make people during the campaign and the over-riding message certainly wasn’t one of an ecstatic belief in the Labour message more one of resignation towards Labour in Barnsley. This ward is a tribal heartland of Labour and person after person kept telling us that Labour (as a party – not some of the individuals) had forgotten them. When you see the Thurnscoe pub boarded up (strangely so is the Goldthorpe!!!) and the rubbish strewn around, it’s hard not to understand why people say this. Our problem was that we didn’t manage to persuade enough people that we were the viable alternative. However as a party only one year on from its birth and with no history or name recognition in the area a 10% share of the vote is a very useful first step.
I’m going to draw comparison with Scotland now. (Please don’t confuse the ultimate aims of the SNP and Yorkshire First though – whilst the SNP are an unabashed nationalist party who ultimately want Scotland to be an independent state, Yorkshire First are a regionalist party who want devolution and NOT independence.) A few years ago in elections across Scotland in places like Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and towns and villages in between, Labour were racking up similar proportions of vote share. Just like Barnsley, there was an underlying resignation that nothing really changes but who else could people vote for? It was either Labour or none of the above. Labour didn’t listen, just like they don’t appear to be listening in places like Dearne North and across Barnsley. In Scotland a tipping point was reached and the people of Scotland realised there was an alternative – the SNP. We know what happened then. I truly believe the same will happen (in fact IS happening) in places like Barnsley and other similar towns and cities across Yorkshire.
Labour would do well not to treat this result as a resounding endorsement of their record in Barnsley. Come Thursday May 5th 2016 there are going to be some very interesting ward battles going on in Barnsley – watch this space!

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Wayne Chadburn

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