Labour shouldn’t stand a candidate against Mark Reckless

by Kevin Meagher

Everything about politics is relative and after a stinker of a week for Labour, it’s clear the Tories’ conference this week is going to be even worse after the shock defection of Rochester and Strood MP, Mark Reckless, to Ukip.

All those sneering gags about Ed Miliband that David Cameron had planned for this week will fall flat as the edges of the Prime Minister’s authority over his own party continue to fray and his future now firmly lies in the hands of Ukip’s “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

In saying that, it is only fair to concede that by resigning his seat as part of his defection, Reckless is allowing the electorate to determine what they make of his decision. It takes bravado, and, frankly, some measure of integrity to do so. Defecting Labour and Tory MPs have never taken the risk of triggering a by-election in such circumstances.

So this is a high-wire act for Ukip and if they fail to win Clacton in two weeks’ time and now Rochester and Strood, then they will land hard. But if they win, the political pay-off will be enormous, and their insurgency will quicken.

How should Labour react? Party chiefs need to make a quick calculation about whether they can benefit from a Conservative-Ukip dog-fight and sneak through the middle. Conversely, the risk is that failing to win this by-election will serve to dampen expectations about Labour’s ability to win southern English seats more generally.

In 2010, Labour came second in Rochester and Strood with 28.5 per cent of the vote. This belies the fact that the seat (or most of it before boundary changes) was represented between 1997 and 2010 by maverick Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews.

But if not now deemed winnable, Labour should move quickly to rule out standing a candidate. Ukip didn’t field anyone against Reckless in 2010 because of his strong Eurosceptic credentials. Labour should recycle the tactic for its own benefit.

This has two effects. First, it guarantees the race turns into a slugfest between Reckless and the Tories and, just as importantly, it insulates Labour from the charge that it isn’t making headway in seats it once used to hold. (A stark reminder is Newark, which Labour held between 1997 and 2001, yet could only manage a dismal third place in last June’s by-election).

In fact, putting up token resistance could see Labour aid the Tories in holding the seat, with Anthony Wells from UK Polling Report cautioning that it won’t be a “walk in the park” for Ukip. Better to give Cameron a few more of those sleepness nights about Ukip that Ed Miliband joked about last week.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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6 Responses to “Labour shouldn’t stand a candidate against Mark Reckless”

  1. swatantra says:

    Nonsense. Labour has a duty to put up a candidate wherever and whenever, and to fight with vigour, knowing they’ll come a poor 3rd or 4th. They owe ie to Labour supporters. Suppose there is no Labour candidate, then Labour supporters will be tempted to vote UKIP, and once they get the taste for rebellion, they might well stick with UKIP, like many of the working class are doing these days, and they’ll be lost for good. Labour supporters will be tempted to join the UKIP bandwagon, rather like sheep.

  2. Simon Christopher-Chambers says:

    Sorry Kevin but you do write some twaddle. Suggesting Labour doesn’t stand is quite ridiculous. Labour must fight every seat. To do otherwise is to show cowardice at best. Westminster bubble politics at worst. Also, this is not bravado by Reckless or Carswell. Don’t you think they have studied a number of local polling and measured their decision as a calculated risk?

  3. steve says:

    Straight out of the coalition with Tories over the referendum in Scotland and into a coalition with UKIP in Rochester and Strood?

    It’s a splendid proposal.

    Labour/Progress doesn’t really have much in the way of policy to fire-up the electorate’s enthusiasm. So best thing is to keep a low profile, as befits a politically bankrupt party, and hope the others slug each other into irrelevance.

  4. Tafia says:

    And suppose the tories decide to do likewise in Heywood?

  5. Robert says:

    I agree that Labour should not have to stand in every seat but Labour has to stand in this by election. It would leave Labour voters with a choice like the French Presidential election in 2002, which ended up Le Pen v Chirac. The result might be a high Green or even Lib Dem vote.

  6. John Reid says:

    Remember the bye election where William Hague ,first stood in 1989′ the SDP and the Libdems stood, labour lost it’s deposit, but it was still right to stand, Hague win with little over 35% of the vote

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