With David Miliband heading off to his new job with the International Rescue Committee in New York the constituency of South Shields needs a new member of Parliament. Last week this new MP was chosen. It is to be a local councillor and social worker Emma Lewell-Buck.
What do you mean the by-election hasn’t happened yet?
I know that — but so what?
There is a vote scheduled for the 2 May. There will be a campaign. Doors will be knocked on. Leaflets printed. Hustings held. The main parties, and some of the fringe parties, will put up candidates. Those candidates will valiantly fly the flag for their party, its policies, and their personal commitment to the area.
And then the people of South Shields will do what they’ve always done and vote Labour.
Apparently South Shields is the only seat in existence since the Great Reform Act of 1832 to have never elected a Conservative MP. The Labour party have held the seat without interruption since 1935. Although the Labour vote has declined from their high point in 1997 when they won 71% of the vote, Miliband still won with 52% of the vote at the last General Election. A Labour majority of 11,000. In addition the make up of South Tyneside council is 48 Labour, 4 independent, 1 Conservative and 1 UKIP. As far as I can work out all the Councillors in the constituency are Labour (although there might be one independent).
In short, South Shields is the very definition of a safe Labour seat.
The truth is that the vote that mattered in deciding who the next MP was to be was the one held by the local Labour Party. Lewell-Buck was quoted as saying;
“Over the next few weeks, I’ll be out in every part of the constituency, knocking on doors and talking to local residents. I want to meet as many people as possible, and hear directly from them what they want from their new MP.”
I know nothing about her except what I’ve read and so have no reason to doubt her sincerity or commitment to her community. In all likelihood she will make an excellent constituency MP. However, in terms of what difference it will make to the result, she could just as well spend the next few weeks researching what she will say in her maiden speech.
I’m sure after the count somebody will say how the result “sends a message to David Cameron and this Conservative-led Government”. It won’t.
I am a democrat — the right to vote is precious — and I want the people of South Shields to have their voice heard. If that voice largely wants to speak about issues and values associated with labour politics then so be it. But the reality is, because this is such a safe seat, outside of the local area, the Labour Party will take those voters for granted and the other parties will largely ignore them. Very few national journalists will make the trip up to Tyneside to cover the result. So, unless there is an extraordinary political earthquake on 2 May, nobody will pay it much attention.
The reality of our political system is that those living in safe seats, whichever party holds them, are less important than those living in marginal seats. And South Shields is about as far away from a marginal seat as it is possible to get.
Does any of the above piss you off?
If yes, why not join one of these:
- Electoral Reform Society
- Unlock Democracy
- Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform
- Conservative Action for Electoral Reform
- Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform
Picture from the BBC News website