Vote share dropped from 17.3pc to 4.2pc.
LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg has defended the party in the wake of their humiliating sixth place in the Barnsley Central by-election, saying it was not a “catastrophic result”.
The Sheffield Hallam MP, who did not go to Barnsley to support the campaign, said he was confident the party would bounce back after being written off before and proving critics wrong.
Lib Dem candidate Dominic Carman admitted he had been given “a kicking” after losing his deposit, limping in behind Ukip, the Tories, the British National Party and an independent unemployed ex-miner.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, paying a triumphant visit to Barnsley yesterday to congratulate victorious MP Dan Jarvis, said the result was a clear sign that voters were “fed up” with the coalition Government’s cuts agenda.
Labour cruised to a thumping win in a seat vacated by the resignation of the party’s former MP Eric Illsley, jailed last month for expenses fraud.
Mr Jarvis, a former paratrooper, increased the party’s majority from 11,093 to 11,771 (60.8 per cent), on a turnout of only 36.5 per cent.
The Lib Dems’ vote share tumbled from 17.3 per cent to 4.2 per cent, and the Tories from 17.3 per cent to 8.3 per cent, as the UK Independence Party claimed second place.
The extent of the Lib Dems’ slide surpassed all predictions, with particular embarrassment at being beaten by Independent Tony Devoy, who had no party machine behind him.
Mr Miliband said: “Nick Clegg and David Cameron may have run away from the people of Barnsley but they cannot hide from the message of this by-election.
“After less than 10 months of this Conservative-led Government, the people of Barnsley have made clear that they are fed up with what they are doing to our country: Squeezing living standards, betraying the hopes of young people and destroying the institutions we value most, from local libraries to the NHS.”
Mr Carman said that he would dust himself down and keep fighting for what the Lib Dems stood for, but admitted his party being in coalition government had made it difficult to separate themselves from the Tories.
“The Liberal Democrats are a distinct and separate party,” he said. “In the minds of many voters in Barnsley they now see the Liberal Democrats and Conservative party as one. If you wear a yellow badge you might as well be wearing a blue badge.”
Amid unease among grassroots Lib Dems at the impact coalition with the Conservatives is having on their electoral chances, former leader Paddy Ashdown urged the party to “stand firm”.
He said the party would have to wait for at least another two years to reap any dividend for its part in dealing with the economic crisis.
“We have got to have the discipline and toughness to stand there and do what needs to be done and take the flak for that while this country gets through the most difficult economic crisis it has faced for 40 or 50 years,” he said.
Mr Clegg said Barnsley Central was one of Labour’s safest seats and all the other parties had been left to “pick up the pieces”.
“The result in the by-election was obviously a bad result for the Liberal Democrats,” he said.
“I have no doubt that people will try to use this single result to write off the Liberal Democrats.
“They have done it in the past and we have proved them wrong and we will prove them wrong again. In Government, we will continue to do what I think is absolutely vital for the long-term benefit of the country – namely sort out the economic mess we inherited from Labour.”
by-election result in full
BARNSLEY Central by-election results in full
Dan Jarvis, Labour – 14,724
Jane Collins, UK Independence Party – 2,953
James Hockney, Conservative – 1,999
Enis Dalton, BNP – 1,463
Tony Devoy, Independent – 1,266
Dominic Carman, Liberal Democrats – 1,012
Kevin Riddiough, English Democrats – 544
Howling Laud Hope, Monster Raving Loony Party – 198
Michael Val Davies, Independent – 60
Labour majority – 11,771
Turnout – 24,219 (37.0 per cent, down by 19.46 per cent from General Election)
2010 General Election result: Labour majority of 11,093, turnout 37,001 (56.45 per cent)
The by-election was prompted by the resignation of Labour MP Eric Illsley, who quit after pleading guilty to three charges of theft by false accounting over his expenses.
Illsley had been the MP for the constituency since 1987, and had increased his majority at the last General Election, but was suspended by Labour after being charged.