On Thursday 2 February, Labour snatched a seat from UKIP in a council by-election, increasing its share of the vote. And the result may indicate that Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on voting for the government’s Article 50 bill was popular, as the election win was in an area that overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU.
Labour gained the second seat in Dinnington (Rotherham) from UKIP. The election followed the resignation of the previous UKIP councillor. The Labour candidate, John Vjestica, won with 36.1% of the vote; an increase of 15.5% on the last election and a 9.3% swing from UKIP. The result means that Labour now has all three councillors in the ward. And it’s worth noting that Vjestica was also the candidate for Dinnington in last year’s election, when UKIP’s Ian Finnie won.
But the result is interesting for a number reasons. Firstly, in last year’s EU referendum, Rotherham voted to leave the EU by 68%; well above the 51.9% UK average. And the Dinnington seat has been held by UKIP since 2014. But also, the Labour Party in Rotherham has been marred by controversy and incompetence in recent years.
Not least is its disastrous handling of the child sexual abuse scandal. 1,400 children were sexually abused, assaulted, exploited and raped in Rotherham over a 16-year period. And the Labour-led local authority did nothing. Also, in 2015, the government took over Rotherham Council in the wake of the scandal, as a report found a culture of “bullying”, “cover-ups”, and “silencing whistle-blowers” within the authority.
So the win over UKIP may be indicative of an approval at local level for Corbyn and Labour’s stance on voting with the government to trigger Article 50. A move which saw 47 Labour MPs defy the party’s three-line whip to vote against the government.
But it’s not all good news.
A mixed bag
The turnout in the Dinnington by-election was just 19.4%; very low even by local standards and down 11.4% on the previous election. Also, in nearby Brinsworth and Catcliffe, the Lib Dems swept to victory over Labour, in a by-election triggered by the resignation of a Labour councillor. Following a conviction for a sexual assault in November 2016, Labour’s Andrew Roddinson stepped down. The Lib Dems won with a 66% share of the vote; an increase of 50.4% and a 38.3% swing from Labour.
So while the Dinnington result could be indicative of the public’s approval of Labour’s national stance on Brexit, the Brinsworth and Catcliffe result shows it’s not all plain sailing for the party. The real test will come in the forthcoming Westminster by-elections in Copeland and Stoke Central. Elections which may well make or break Corbyn’s leadership.
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