Whatever one thinks of UKip, the Manchester result was the one that mattered last night

I was born in the Heywood & Middleton constituency….at 921 Rochdale Road, an address demolished many years ago. Later we moved to slightly more posh Prestwich (in those days included in the constituency). I think if Labour had won the seat during our time there, my Dad would’ve turned the service revolver on himself: Prestwich was solid Macmillanite petit bourgeois Tory. Since that long-gone era, there have been several political earthquakes; but last night’s was easily the biggest in my lifetime.

Despite the media’s brainless focus on the Carswell victory, the real history was made in Middleton yesterday. These are the stats, and they reward examination:

Labour: Liz McInnes – 11,633

Ukip: John Bickley – 11,016

Conservative: Iain Gartside – 3,496

Liberal Democrats: Anthony Smith – 1,457

Green: Abi Jackson – 870

While the remaining Conservative defector to Ukip will retain his seat easily, I will always see such victories as, in democratic terms, a fraud: Party workers slaved for years to build those positions….all UKip’s done is to rebrand the votes in a smash-and-grab raid. You may have noted the gloating enthusiasm with which Nigel Barrage-Balloon now encourages other Tory MPs to follow suit. This is, I think, the measure of the man and what he stands for: he is hoping to subvert an electoral system which, while incoherently corrupt itself, is nevertheless our democratic form. I’m not surprised: he is, after all, just another corporatist neoliberal looking to be deregulated.

But that doesn’t apply in Heywood & Middleton. While Carswell’s Clacton carpet-bagging is something of a nine-bob note, John Bickley’s effort oop North is a pure gold quantum political shift.

Bickley himself is an interesting chap who hasn’t come up the easy way. He comes from Labour stock, and his wife works as a part-time carer at a special needs school. But he has solid commercially entrepreneurial experience: this is the second by-election he has contested (he was UKIP’s candidate in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election) and there too he came second against the odds.

In Wythenshawe, some of Bickley’s dignity came to the fore. He was smeared by the Mirror as ‘would-be MP touted as a great businessman by UKIP ran a firm that went bust owing £452,845’. Toby Perkins, the MP running Labour’s by-election campaign, said: “He seems to be falling apart after a week as a candidate.” That turned out to be cock: ignoring the bear-baiting, he beat the Tories into third place – and Labour won on a tiny (25%) turnout.

His achievement in Heywood & Middleton is truly remarkable – and I offer this view as one who has no faith at all in UKip’s long-term vision, which on the whole I find myopic.

First of all, in a respectable bit of Manchester where Conservatism is far from dead, the UKip candidate polled more than three times the Tory candidate’s vote. On a lowish (57%) turnout, the 2010 result looked like this:

heymidfinalThink about it: on a turnout 40% lower than the 2010 effort, Hickley polled ten times more votes than his predecessor, slashed the Conservative vote by 75%, and reduced a 6,000 Labour lead tenfold. He was undoubtedly helped by the fact that the BNP didn’t bother to turn up, but even so his achievement is stunning. In 2010, UKip got under 2% of the vote: this time, they got a quarter of all votes cast.

A look at which Parties’ supporters stayed away is equally educational. Because of such huge changes in turnout, candidates and support, it’s impossible to be exact. But a quick back-of-envelope guesstimate suggests that 40% of Labour voters and 65% of Conservative supporters didn’t turn up to vote. There are two extrapolations one can suggest from that:

1. Substantial proportions of both major Parties acquiesce passively in the idea of their Party losing ground: neither Labour nor the Tories any longer have a committed majority of supporters upon whom they can rely.

2. The Tory voter abstention is far more serious. Traditionally, Labour has more activists, but the Conservative Party has more loyal mass support it can get out to vote. Neither leader emerges well from this result, but the crisis for Camerlot is greater than that facing the Ed Miller Band.

We should not be swept away by the hype: Mr Farage is laying it on with a cement mixer, and after a result like this, that is his absolute right. But turnout data can swing both ways: come May 2015, there will be 15,000 additional votes in play.

On the one hand – assuming the usual return of Tory loyalists to the fold, which is itself uncertain – Labour needs to capture around 50% of those electors in order to be reasonably safe. By contrast – given the very poor Conservative turnout, and every Tory’s desire to see Labour laid to rest – UKip probably needs no more than 20% of those floaters to win comfortably in 2015.

Either way, the Conservatives do not stand a chance.

This reality alone is why the crown lies uneasy upon the head of King Dave this morning. I wrote above that ‘the crisis for Camerlot is greater than that facing the Ed Miller Band’. However, I base this partly upon history’s lesson: Labour lacks the sharpened knife when it comes to the lame-duck leader. And with only five short months to go, I think it highly unlikely that anyone on the Left would wield it.

As a supporter of what the great Rugby commentator Bill McClaren used to call No Side, I think such dithering by Labour will result in tragedy. I hold no candle at all for Ed Miliband’s muddled morons, but at least they are not completely hand in glove with the evil power of globalist mercantile dictatorship. A 2015 result handing the Commons majority to a hard right Tory Party (eventually led by Mammon’s Archbishop Boris Johnson) in concert with UKippers would be the beginning of the end for anything decent in the United Kingdom’s culture.

All that said, I still think the most likely result is another hung Parliament. In which case, the Left in Britain will be tested as never before: for it will have to choose between darkness and pragmatism. When that moment comes, will it be wearing long trousers, or sans culottes?

Connected at The Slog: Do not underestimate LePen’s chances in France