THE Liberal Democrats may have taken a beating in the Barnsley Central by-election but Tim Farron, the party president, was right when he hinted at one thing: there are no real winners in a poll in which nearly two-thirds of voters stayed at home. It achieved the bizarre feat of damning both the old politics and the new.
The plunge in the share of the vote for both coalition parties was to expected. With a high proportion of public sector workers, Barnsley people fear for their economic prospects in austerity Britain. Clearly their feelings are similar to those heard elsewhere in the region, that while Government spending cuts are necessary, they are coming too quickly. The Conservative hopes of success were non-existent, however, because their support was never going to get above ground level in a former mining town.
For the Lib Dems, there is much more to ponder. Although this was a very poor result for them, beaten into sixth place by fringe parties and an independent candidate without the backing of a party machine, they will draw some comfort from the fact that their support held up in Oldham East and Saddleworth just two months ago. They may be new to government but they know that parties in power nearly always fare badly in by-elections.
For Ed Miliband, Dan Jarvis’ victory will provide more of a relief than a success. As Labour approaches the first anniversary of leaving office, their leader and Doncaster MP will have learnt little from Thursday about the wider public mood. The poll, only precipitated by Eric Illsley’s conviction for corruption and his obstinate failure to retire at the general election, acts as a reminder of the chaos and incompetence of Labour’s final years in office.
Mr Farron was right about one other thing. It would be churlish not to congratulate the winner. His predecessor left in shame; Mr Parks must give Barnsley a fresh start.