Could Labour lose the South Yorkshire police commissioner by-election?

by Kevin Meagher

Tomorrow, Labour faces a massive electoral test that hasn’t, so far, garnered much publicity. Forget Heywood and Middleton, if Labour loses the by-election for a new Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire, deepest red Labour territory and the political backyard of Ed Miliband and a swathe of the shadow cabinet, the fallout will be immense.

Twelve months ago, the concept of Labour faring badly here would have been unthinkable. In the 2012 Rotherham by-election, caused by the resignation of Denis MacShane for fiddling his expenses, Labour held on comfortably, with more than double the share of the vote of second-placed UKIP.

That was then. Now, with the Rotherham child grooming scandal still reverberating – in all its three-dimensional awfulness – bookies have UKIP hot on Labour’s heels as we enter the last day of campaigning.

As I wrote at the time, the party’s initial response to the Rotherham scandal was slow and uncertain. Not much has changed since. Indeed, there have not been, as far as I am aware, any visits by Ed Miliband to reassure people there that this bleak episode in the party’s management of the town will not be repeated. Contrition has been thin on the ground.

Let’s be clear: the systematic abuse of children and young girls by gangs of Pakistani-heritage men in the town was unforgivable. Girls in care were thrown to the wolves by inept council officials who put political correctness ahead of decency and common sense. Grooming was seen as girls making “informed choices”. The police couldn’t have cared less. There is no other way of dressing it up. There is no missing context. This was a vile episode. Some heads have rolled – and deservedly so. Others should follow.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report made clear that there were at least 1,400 victims. This is her conservative estimate, as young Pakistani girls and boys were also abused, but are less like to report it for cultural reasons.

And the shame for it rests squarely at Labour’s door. The ‘wicked’ Tories weren’t to blame. Neither were the Lib Dems or UKIP. Between them, a Labour council and Labour-controlled police force created this mess. Meanwhile, the town’s MPs were apparently blissfully unaware.

What we do know, is that fears about “inflaming community tensions” – one of the main excuses for inaction – were misplaced. For all the anger in the town, there are no reports of riots or disturbances since Professor Jay’s report was published.

All that is left are decent working class communities crying out for someone to do something to make sure this can never happen again. We will have to wait and see if they are prepared to give Labour a last chance. And hope that the visceral disgust felt across Rotherham does not spill over to the rest of South Yorkshire.

So back to the question: can Labour lose on Thursday? There is little polling evidence to base a judgement on, just a pervasive sense of malaise from the electorate. It is fuelled by the reason for this by-election: the behaviour of the disgraced Shaun Wright in hanging on to his role even after it was clear he was mired in the Rotherham scandal from his time in charge of children’s services in the town. (The final straw that triggered his resignation appears to have been the vigil that members of the English Defence League were keeping outside his house).

Mike Smithson, the respected pollster and editor of, thinks an upset is possible:

“Turnout in these elections, as we’ve seen, is pitifully low and might present UKIP with a huge opportunity on Thursday. The momentum is certainly with the party.”

Yet, despite the fact ten of UKIP’s top 100 Labour target parliamentary seats are in South Yorkshire, the party only made relatively modest progress in June’s local elections, winning just two seats in Sheffield, one in Doncaster and none at all in Barnsley, although, it has to be conceded, they did win ten in Rotherham before Professor Jay’s report was even published. (A spike that probably reflects disgust with Denis MacShane).

Personally, I think a low turnout and modest Labour win is the likeliest outcome. Sheffield and the other South Yorkshire towns should offset any UKIP surge in Rotherham. But if Labour does lose, it will signify a collapse in the party’s working class support and expose its fallibility in its once impregnable strongholds.

With so much staked on a Labour victory tomorrow, Ed Miliband really has to sort out the party’s rotten boroughs to avoid ever being put in this position again.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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11 Responses to “Could Labour lose the South Yorkshire police commissioner by-election?”

  1. steve says:

    Of course Labour will lose.

    After the child abuse scandal can anyone think of a good reason why the people of Rotherham should vote Labour?

    MacShane was a disgrace and was imprisoned. Champion was parachuted in (a clear indication that Labour’s elite knew something was seriously amiss in the constituency). And to top it all, even the most careful of observers would fail to find policy differences between the components of the LibLabCon.

    The Red Tories look as if they’re going to be trounced in Scotland next year, no surprise if the same happens to the Red Tories in northern England.

  2. Tafia says:

    a massive electoral test? look at the turn-outs for PCC elections – piss-poor pointless.

    The public don’t like them full stop and anyone who can garner 5 or 6% of the voter base is in with a shout of winning.

  3. dwll says:

    Kevin Meagher does seem to have a much better grasp on this issue than most in the Labour Party.

    However, today’s report by Ann Coffey is another depressing reminder of Labour’s reluctant to talk about this honestly. The way her report tries to skirt round the issue of Pakistani-heritage men targeting white children is painful to read.

    Labour seemingly remain determined to avoid talking about the elephant in the room – but it is now looking increasingly absurd to do so given that most people in these areas have realised by now what has really been going on. It is an untenable position and they need to stop treating the voters like idiots.

  4. John reid says:

    Kevin Meagher has a article in the guardian on South Yorkshire police and the commisioner job asking is South Yorkshire the worse constabulary/ organisation in the country,stating Hilsborugh, Orgreave and the Rotherham scandal,.o.k 2 of those took place more than 26 years ago,, but Orgreave wasn’t only Yorks police ,and the Labour parties contact with the NUM and the way they violently behaved, and Labours covering up of the grooming scandal, maybe the question, is South Yorkshire labour the worse organisation in the Country?

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    Many Asian girls have also been abused, but this hasn’t fully come out yet.

  6. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour need to start asking more loud public questions about Dickens’ missing Dossier…

  7. Stuart Bruce says:

    Haven’t seen the data, but suspect a very low turnout will mean a high proportion of postal votes, which should play in Labour’s favour as we are simply more organised and have been targeting longer. Even a close Labour win will be worrying as it indicates people can be bothered to turn out for UKIP.

  8. john Reid says:

    Yes labour do need to ask about Dickens missing dossier, I wonder if the reason we’re not is we don’t want the smearing of those who quesioned the Rotherham scandal coming out.

    he maybe a idiot but Tommy robinson, had lies told by the UAF about him said to the police ,he was arrested so he couldn’t attend demo’s to express the scandal going on, yet he was released without charge,, the UAF not wanting anything bad about muislims coming out, to the poitn they were using htier links to labour to hush it up

  9. Tafia says:

    The turnout was 14.88% (14.93% in 2012)

    Labour took very slightly just over 50% of the vote – just 28 votes over the ‘50% of turn-out’ threshold he needed to win outright. In absolute terms they took around 7.5% of the total available electorate – which begs the question as to why the politicians continue with this pointless scheme that lacks any support whatsoever – couldn’t be jobs for the boys by any chance that keeps them persisting with this idiocy?

    Strange things happen on ultra-low turnouts (apart from highlighting the people’s hostility to this mickey mouse rubbish). I think we would agree that Labour’s strength as a rule is in urban areas, where as the urban areas here saw catastrophically low turn-outs – Doncaster being one of the better ones with 3.5%

    This has shown absolutely nothing regarding the strengths and weak
    nesses of the parties. All it has shown is the total and utter contempt the electorate has for PCCs and that that, if anything, is increasing. You would be hard pushed to see a decline from an established position of 14.93%, but this by-election managed exactly that.

    PCCs were, are and will remain a gross and total misuse of public money bordering on theft and are utterly pointless. You could spend it on far more useful things that would probably have far more public support – such as mini-umbrellas and wellington boots for ducks, or opening second-hand dog shit shops.

  10. Tafia says:

    They are not democratic – in fact they are anti-democratic and are little more than over-paid jumped up councillors who have no public support at all anywhere in England and Wales. Completely and totally irrelevant, just a glorified quango. Police Authorities should have been retained with greatly increased powers and greater accountability and transparency. That would have been far cheaper, far more effective and far more representative of the local people – a local people who have not only been forgotten in all of this but deliberately ignored in a rather tawdry and thoroughly disgusting example of politicians using public money in a job creation scheme from which they are the main beneficiaries.

    Has Labour the guts to scrap them? I doubt it, even though the bulk of Labour voters – indeed the bulk of all voters, would overwhelmingly support the idea. The only people who would be pissed off would be party apparatchiks – who are vermin anyway.

  11. Tafia says:

    In fact, Labour’s share of the vote fell from 51.35% of the vote in 2012 on a higher turnout (although still derisory and still a laughable piss-take), where as there was a massive swing to UKIP from near f**k all in absolute terms to slightly less than f**k all in real terms, beaten by a party with marginally more than f**k-all who polled slightly less than the marginally more than f**k-all they got last time out.

    And that is the most accurate summary you will see anywhere.

    (In fact for purists, on a near-identical turn-out, UKIPs vote rouglly trebled where as Labour’s vote was largely static. A disaster for a party that needs a populist swing in order to win GE2015.)

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