Labour should be aware of Reform UK’s surge in places like Barnsley - Jayne Dowle

As Labour MP Dan Jarvis said, shortly after his re-election to Barnsley North was announced, ‘reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated’.

And so thousands of local voters, some of whom had gone to the polls to support Labour, and some who had stayed at home – turn-out in Barnsley North was just 47.3 per cent – breathed out.

Only hours before, the local paper had posted a story on its Facebook page saying that, according to Ispos UK exit polls, Bob Lomas was 99 per cent likely to win in Barnsley North, and in Barnsley South, his former Reform UK running mate, David White, was 98 per cent likely to take the seat from Labour’s Stephanie Peacock.

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My phone was pinging backwards and forwards in panic. Lomas was actually standing as an Independent candidate after being dropped from Reform UK just days before July 4, for allegedly making comments so racist even Farage wanted nothing to do with him.

Nigel Farage arrives at the House of Commons in Westminster with his Reform UK MPs. PIC: Maja Smiejkowska/PA WireNigel Farage arrives at the House of Commons in Westminster with his Reform UK MPs. PIC: Maja Smiejkowska/PA Wire
Nigel Farage arrives at the House of Commons in Westminster with his Reform UK MPs. PIC: Maja Smiejkowska/PA Wire

There wasn’t even time to amend his details on the ballot paper, which begs the question – did the 10,799 people who voted for Lomas know he’d been kicked out of Reform UK, and why? Or did they overlook that inconvenient fact and vote for him anyway?

I make no apology for the fact that most – not all - of my friends in Barnsley are left-leaning, tolerant types, some of whom grew up in strong Labour and trade union-supporting homes.

The very last thing any of us wanted was for Barnsley to end up on the map for the wrong reasons once again – this time, it appeared as ‘the most Reform town in the UK’.

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In the end, incredulously – and thankfully - none of this came to pass. Jarvis, made Security Minister in Keir Starmer’s new government, and Peacock, won their seats with fairly comfortable majorities.

In the end, Nigel Farage’s party took four seats.

Whilst there is relief, there is also concern. In both these Barnsley constituencies, votes cast for Reform UK placed the party in robust second place to Labour, with all other parties, including the Conservatives, trailing in their wake.

Jarvis shrugged off the threat with wry humour, but the facts cannot be ignored. Reform UK’s erstwhile candidate polled only 7,811 fewer votes than the 18,610 Jarvis, the sitting MP, secured, proving that there are plenty of people disillusioned with the mainstream parties in towns such as Barnsley.

It’s Labour’s job now to prove the doubters – including the Reform UK voters – that this new government means business and has their interests at heart.

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There is frankly, a mountain to climb. Which is why, despite the historic Labour landslide by Friday morning, my heart felt heavy. Labour can’t afford to be complacent for a minute, there is so much anger and frustration in towns like mine and it isn’t going to go away.

There is also a fierce cult of individualism that perhaps my left-leaning, tolerant friends have never previously accounted for. ‘Vote Reform and take your town back’, was the message that kept popping up on social media. Not ‘pull together and we can make the world a better place’.

Those who support Reform UK often say that the ‘two main parties’ – ie Conservative and Labour, have ‘done nothing’ for them.

I heard one man, who looked to be in his thirties, interviewed on TV saying he had tried his vote with Labour and he had tried his vote with Conservative in the last few years but ‘nowt ever changes so I’m trying Reform this time’.

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He was speaking from a former mining village which sits to the east of Barnsley town centre. It’s an area which, without colossal amounts of investment from the European Union, would still be left bereft, 40 years since the pits began to close.

Yet he added that he supported Reform UK’s stance on leaving Europe; presumably blind to the blue plaques that dot his village, decorated with gold EU stars and details of the cash sums given towards regeneration.

The serious business of who governs the country, makes decisions on defence, the economy, the NHS, welfare and education, reduced to nothing more than a political pick n mix? I despair.

And I despair too when I hear local Reform UK voters saying that they’re pleased that Labour is now in power because they are just waiting for them to fail.

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So what? So somehow, the raggle-taggle army of Reform UK, with candidates kicked out for espousing extremist views, can sweep to power and we’ll all live happily ever after? Be very careful what you wish for, I say to these people.

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