Before the by-election in Oldham & Saddleworth, numerous commentators had predicted an increase in the vote for fringe ‘right-wing’/’far-right’ parties. The usual reasons were trotted out: ‘disillusionment with politics’; ‘the economic climate’; ‘tuition fees’ among many other tired excuses.
What was interesting was that it was not just the BNP or UKIP that were receiving this attention. The English Democrats were also being mentioned, as in this Rod Liddle column in the Spectator:
“The BNP did very well in Oldham five years ago, but their support locally (and nationally) has dwindled since then. They are competing with the English Democrats for the disillusioned Labour vote; UKIP take votes mainly from the Tories.”
Here Liddle appears to suggest, albeit somewhat optimistically, that the Eng Dems were in pole position to woo disillusioned Labour voters. Has he not noticed that the Lib Dems were supposed to do that?
What is more interesting is what Liddle perceives it is about the Eng Dems that makes them a specific target for leftist voters. Looking through their manifesto/policies, it is difficult to locate a specifically modern-left policy among policies such as these:
3.19.1 The English Democrats share the public concerns as to the harm caused to our society by political correctness.
3.19.2 The English Democrats unreservedly condemn this intolerant creed. We reject the self-righteousness of political correctness and condemn the ideology as an evil. Political correctness is incompatible with a free and democratic society.
The polar opposite of the left, in fact. Liddle continues:
“My guess is the BNP will still narrowly win this private three-way battle… But you do wonder if the English Democrats will overtake the BNP sooner or later.”
As it transpires, in Oldham, they did not. Both UKIP and the BNP marginally increased their share, taking close to 10% of the vote between them. Other political parties registered a respectable result… but the Eng Dems? Well, one need only look at the numbers.
Results in full
Labour: 14,718 (42.1%)
Lib Dems: 11,160 (31.9%)
Conservatives: 4,481 (12.8%)
UKIP: 2,029 (5.8%)
BNP: 1,560 (4.5%)
Green Party: 530 (1.5%)
Monster Raving Loony Party: 145 (0.4%)
English Democrats: 144 (0.4%)
Pirate Party: 96 (0.2%)
Bus Pass Elvis Party: 67 (0.1%)
Yes, an inferior turn-out to the Monster Raving Loony Party.
It would be all too simple to blame ‘disillusionment with politics’, but there is clearly more here than this superficial analysis would merit. The English Democrats struggled because they did not make themselves particularly distinctive in a crowded political landscape. One need only look at their key poster in Oldham for evidence of this.
Not a meaningful slogan in sight. Where are the statistics about the sheer volume of English people who would support an English Parliament? Where are the promises and ideals? How does this connote a distinctively English identity?
Far from being a wake-up call to any of the major parties, the Oldham by-election has proved to be a strong exhortation to the minor parties: find a place in the line-up of bland asinine candidates, assert an identity and above all, stress the message.
If the likes of the English Democrats don’t, we will all be waiting for proper representation for England for a good deal longer.