Brian Monteith: By-elections show call for change

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Another Thursday night drifting into Friday morning, and your intrepid columnist has again stayed up late to see democratic history made and interpret what it means for Edinburgh and Scotland.

Clacton? Heywood & Middleton? What on earth can those by-elections have to do with beautiful Edinbourg-sur-Mer, or brave Caledonia? You should just have gone to bed Monteith...

Actually, they’ve a heck of a lot to do with our political destiny. Firstly, in case you have forgotten or were told differently, we are still all part of the United Kingdom. These by-elections matter, they will have a profound effect on determining our next national government.

Secondly, the results utterly destroy the idea that Scotland is somehow different in the degree to which we are disaffected with the old-style politics of Westminster.

We are, indeed, all in this together – but “this” challenge that we all must face with fortitude and solidarity is not just the great debt-fuelled recession – but the crisis of democracy – the great disconnect between the British electorate and our politicians in both the Commons and the Lords.

Let us just consider the two results from last night. In the safe Labour seat of Heywood & Middleton UKIP came within a whisker of beating Ed Miliband’s candidate, achieving an 18 per cent swing that would see other Labour seats such as Grimsby vulnerable in a general election. The difference between Labour’s 11,633 and UKIP’s 11,016 is only 617 votes – revealing that almost as many of the Rochdale electorate saw Labour as part of the problem rather than the solution. They are not wrong.

In Clacton, Douglas Carswell achieved a staggering 44 per cent swing and 60 per cent vote share that underlined the widespread disenchantment with our political elite. His gracious and thoughtful victory speech put to the sword all the shrill smears about racism and homophobia that is so representative of the tired yah-boo, Punch and Judy politics of the old parties that the electorate rejects.

Back in June’s European elections the first Asian and homosexual MEPs to win that night were UKIP candidates. Now UKIP has had elected its first member of parliament and he is a man of principle and honour; never again will an MP be able to change party without resigning to ask for his decision to be endorsed in a by-election. We need more politicians like Douglas Carswell, irrespective of party.

How many times have you heard – especially in the last year – how different, how out of touch, the South East of England is with us up here? Well the Clacton by-election shows that seaside resort’s residents – that comprise of London commuters, pensioners in their retirement and some of our nation’s poorest living in beach huts without decent amenities we all take for granted – are no different from the rest of us. They reject Westminster’s ways too.

It used to be that as a way of protest voters would turn to the Liberals or later the Liberal Democrats. But they have become less liberal by banning anything they don’t like and utterly undemocratic by killing boundary changes that would have meant fairer constituencies. So much for Nick Clegg’s conference speech. That party is now seen for what it is – just like the rest of them. Its paltry, pitiful 483 votes in Clacton, losing the Lib Dems their deposit, was only one per cent of the vote. The Greens won two hundred more votes and will continue to take support from both them and Labour.

And in the North of England – like in Heywood & Middleton – the voters are no different too. I’ll let you into a secret, it’s the same across the whole of the UK, north and south, east and west, rural and urban – people are crying out for change.

As we can see from the way people vote SNP to get change in Scotland they vote UKIP in England and Wales to achieve the same idea. Of course the two parties have different policies, but their anti-establishment message is the same. People are scunnered with too many of our politicians.

The reasons are deep rooted, caused by politicians who say one thing and do another; politicians who’s outrageous personal behaviour suggests their public judgements cannot be trusted; politicians who take us into wars without knowing how we will get out of them; politicians whose scandalous expense claims suggest they are too often on the make rather than making good, and politicians who will promise the earth and pass the bill on to future generations not yet born.

People want all of that to end.

By creating more parliaments and assemblies we have debased our political currency, for we have too many poor quality politicians spread more thinly. We need fewer politicians of higher quality, which means reforming Westminster to make it smaller. We need greater accountability so politicians behave more responsibly – Douglas Carswell’s policy of creating a right for the electorate to petition for a recall vote on members who break their vows would be a start.

Whether it was Porty or Clacton, Haymarket or Heywood, last night’s by-elections were in our name and we should be grateful to the rebels challenging the old order.