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Nick Clegg's no show in Barnsley Central

Michael Crick | 15:59 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

I'm in Barnsley Central today, on the last day of the by-election campaign. Indeed, it seems that I am the first national TV reporter to cover this contest - at least, that's what Labour and Conservative officials tell us.

That's perhaps not surprising when Labour looks set to walk it.

Both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates have been pretty much deserted by their senior colleagues. I was especially astonished to learn that Nick Clegg hasn't been here once to support his man Dominic Carman.

Yet Clegg is a South Yorkshire MP, and his seat, Sheffield Hallam, is less than 15 miles away.

The BBC's Political Research Unit has looked back as far as 2005, and certainly every Lib Dem leader since then has supported his candidate in a by-election, in most cases making several visits.

Can any reader tell me the last time any Lib Dem (or Liberal or SDP?) leader didn't go to support his candidate in a by-election?

Update at 17:23
And Charles Kennedy has just told me that he reckons he went to every by-election during his time as Liberal Democrat leader. So that takes us back at least to 1999.


  • Comment number 1.


    He is hardly an asset.

    Nick is the new Brown.

  • Comment number 2.

    'Can any reader tell me the last time any Lib Dem (or Liberal or SDP?) leader didn't go to support his candidate in a by-election?

    With the full resources of the national broadcaster being devoted to this pressing... 'news'... above anything else of interest out of what seems a very small bubble, maybe the number of Lib Dem leaders a bit busy at head of government while a few things are kicking off could be tallied too?

    Say hi to Chas for us. No need for Angostura, er, flavouring, in his drink.

  • Comment number 3.

    There, as always, are at least two ways of looking at this. One is, predictably the one Michael focuses on, namely the fact that the coalition leadership is abandoning their local representatives to fend for themselves, that being the explanation that shows the coalition in the most negative light possible.

    For the less partisan among us however there is another explanation. All new governments inevitably enter a period of profound unpopularity as the electorate once again realise that they have ended up being persuaded that the government they had put their hopes in is already letting them down. Once you realise this then you also realise that the coalition leadership are, in effect, more likely to be a hindrance than a help to their local supporters.

    This country is in a position so economically desperate that when the defence minister tried to describe it in terms of the interest payments on our borrowings the interviewer on the Today programme on Radio 4 on Monday morning did a Kirsty on him and made sure by talking over him that he couldn't finish the point he was trying to make. Week after week it is simply impossible to avoid coming to the conclusion that BBC News is deliberately trying to avoid any reference to our budget deficit and our national debt that might in any way put the measures the government is having to take in context.

    Thanks to the overt hostility of BBC news to anything to do with the government the coalition leaders have been forced to realise that the less they show their faces in by-elections the better will be the prospects for their candidates.

    Michael uses triumphalist terms like 'walk it' to describe his party's prospects in this by-election so I assume he believes he and his colleagues in BBC News are succeeding in their objectives.

    Maybe he's right and even the government is right to assume that the raw power BBC News now wields to shape public opinion in this country to it's own ends is more powerful even than the government itself.

    I'm here to remind Michael that not all of us are oblivious to what they're up to.

    'Walk over'. Not very objective really.

  • Comment number 4.

    Is this the biggest news story of the week - no, but its is a perfectly reasonable blog entry for a BBC UK political reporter.

    The LibDems used to turn up and win by-elections for fun. If this had been a year ago then Clegg would have been all over it like a rash.

    The Tories extended their reach into the Midlands at last election and need to show they can go further if they are to have any hope of future majorities - Oldham and Barnsley are showing they may have reached their Hadrian's Wall.

    Labour less than a year after election defeat should be in no state to win even routine by-elections without a real fight, but its not turning out that way.

    Yup, like it or lump it this is a reasonable thing to report on and the outcome won't be seismic but its another chip away at an eroding coaltion and another nail in the LibDem proverbial.

    Michael - any views on health bill issues C4 picked up on yesterday - looks like potential large conflicts of interests between GPs and private health providers?

  • Comment number 5.

    Are you really surprised Michael? The leading Lib/Dem Tory stooge has betrayed those that voted for him at the last election, his party workers, students and millions of others.
    Mr Carmen needs to think himself lucky that he has not been contaminated with his presence.

  • Comment number 6.


    Party (adversarial) politics, belong in an immature nation populated by immature individuals; party politics are intrinsically juvenile.

    Mothering is denigrated, (except - for a while - immigrant mothering) suckling and nurture are bad for Equality Eve's career, school (institutionalisation) will soon span 2 - 18 THE FORMATIVE YEARS, which must mean brains are largely configured for the institutional life (and for playing electronic games).

    This ensures a downward trend in COMPETENCE. I have seen the future, and it simply DOESN'T WORK. Against that - Ninny Nick not appearing in Barnsley just doesn't register.

  • Comment number 7.

    Michael, I have two comments:

    Firstly the Lib/Dem candidate, Mr Carman, claimed on BBC Look North Regional News earlier in the week that he had identified 100 new jobs in Barnsley in which he had take a hand in creating.

    This did not not appear in a later BBC bulletins. Did you not spot this piece of political shenanigans? According to an impromptu poll the Lib Dems are on 1% in the constituency. Perhaps all Mr Carman deserves?

    Secondly, Jane Collins in my opinion was given unfair treatment on Newsnight in the way she was compared with the BNP. UKIP is not a racist party (I declare that I am a UKIP member) our policy about immigration is no way racist; it is purely jobs related. We have had candidates from almost all demographic/ethnic backgrounds standing in last May's General Election. You could never accuse the BNP of this.

  • Comment number 8.

    Your comments will fall on deaf ears.

    (see letter 4- sums it all up really).

    It is simply impossible for someone who is committed to a political stance that in so many ways is equivalent to a religious faith to do the job of impartially informing the public.

  • Comment number 9.


    Just as Dave told Parliament that being fourth biggest spender on mercenary death and destruction (the job they love) is 'what Britain wants', so the BBC have decided to send mercenary invaders into a high street 'where you are', on edgy 'offensives'. They ALSO are 'doing the job they love'.

    Civilisationwise, we are the 'best of the best' going forward.

  • Comment number 10.

    'I am the first national TV reporter to cover this contest ... That's perhaps not surprising when Labour looks set to walk it.'

    I call that joining the dots.

  • Comment number 11.


    Reading Sarah Wollaston (ex GP) in The Guardian, it is clear she finds the Westminster Ethos anathema. She was chosen, in open primary, to defend the reasonably safe Tory seat of Totnes. From what she writes, only upon winning, did she discover the evils of the Westminster Malaise. (Odd really - maladies were her bag.)

    I suggest Ms Wollaston is an ideal candidate for INTEGRITY. She should stand as an INDEPENDENT at the next election. By then, she will have a track record (albeit hobbled by party constraint) and can discover, first hand, the actual split of votes between her rosette and herself.

    That would be illuminating and a step to SPOILPARTYGAMES.

  • Comment number 12.

    Aw cmon TMR @ 8, you are joking this time aren't you?

    Even the Daily Mail couldn't bring themselves to make a big deal on this - they managed one para on their website and it attracted a big fat zero comments.

    Did you actually see the placard - a fairly pitiful attempt at 'humour' and as Mason hiself said "its hardly the miners strike". I think you might consider protesting a little if your pension rights were being reduced?

    There is no big BBC leftie conspiracy - I tell you what, watch Channel 4 News to see how much a hard time govt ministers can really get and then come back to BBC and you will marvel at the anodyne nature of it all. Crumbs what are you goanie do if Sky News really does get split from Murdoch - there'll be commies everywhere you look!

  • Comment number 13.

    what was that about a dog returning to it's vomit......

  • Comment number 14.

    Paul @ 7 - you were right! LibDems got 4% so with polling margin of error of 3% thrown in the 1% estimate was pretty much bang on.

    I really hope that LibDem councillors up and down the country can put off any job creation quango closures for at least another 2 months - for their own sakes if nothing else.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm on a roll.

    Govt combined gets 12% on 36% turnout so overall 4% of the good people of Barnsley could be bothered to vote in favour of their policies.

    The 36% turnout, unfortunately not untypical of by-elections (and even more disappointing council elections) is something all the parties need to work on as a priority. While other nations fight for a voice, we in the UK treat it with utter contempt.

    I'm sure barriesingleton can argue its the system, but it is what it is and we should all be doing our level best to vote.

  • Comment number 16.

    Barnsley Central: The Result

    This is a clear message from the people of Barnsley Central about the policies of this Coalition Government.Rubbish!

    The Tories and the Lib Dems only got what they were deserving.

    Barnsley people want notice to be given to their plight in their own community. The north of England has been unfairly penalised by the Whitehall cuts in central funding to the councils: Cuts in services, benefit reductions and redundant council workers. No Job vacancies. Far greater cuts than in the Home Counties boroughs.

    A reduced turnout on polling day.Why? Because many voters are fed up with the past the post system in parliamentary constituency elections.

    Well done Labour on a strong recovery but in a seat that has always returned a Labour candidate to Westminster and especially to Jane Collins of UKIP, who fought an inspired campaign as a local girl to this district of Yorkshire, and came second in the poll.

    Perhaps Michael you should have given just a teeny weeny bit more coverage to Janes's efforts than you as the BBC's Newsnight Political Editor did during the hustings?

    Finally, Nick Clegg apparently abandoned Dominic Carman to the wolves of Yorkshire with his no-show.

  • Comment number 17.

    It was predictable they got a kicking so was there really any need or point in Clegg going up there?

    I have to chuckle at the comment by the victorious Labour candidate about this sending a clear message to the Coalition. How quickly those Labour voters forgive, forget or deny. With the mess , economically, socially and in terms of foreign policy they inherited, the Coalition were always going to be hideously unpopular in the first few years while they tried to sort out the mess. The hope is that they are sucessful and Labour are consigned to the history books for a good few more years yet.

    The only clear message is just how fickle the electorate are, and that isn't really news.

  • Comment number 18.

    Will71 - why was it so predictable?

    Labour in your world were put out of office for being wrong on just about everything possible and so whats changed? Add in the expenses scandal putting the previous guy in jail and surely this was tailor made for a different outcome?

    I've voted for pretty much every left of centre party possible in my voting life and so this is not a die in the wool Labour supporter speaking here.

    The Torylition parties won the election based on Labours fault mantra but after nearly a year people are beginning to realise its far more complicated than that - this is even before cuts actually kick in from April onwards. You can chuckle all you like but unless Torylition supporters leave the election rhetoric behind and actually start to try and justify their policies then you will see Labour back in power far sooner than you could ever have imagined.

    The electorate aren't fickle - they punished Labour for not protecting them better from the global financial crisis - now they are challenging what they voted for instead.

  • Comment number 19.


    In making your comment about the result for Labour have you considered how seriously the people of Barnsley Central have been impacted by the Coalition Government policies that will deliver zilch to them at this difficult time?

    It is not about being fickle, it is about the frustration the voters are feeling.

  • Comment number 20.

    Paul @ 19

    We have different political outlooks, but I 100% agree with your sensible comments on this blog. All political parties should concentrate firstly on what the people who voted are telling them and then secondly on the shockingly low turnouts.

    A final thought - UKIP are well ahead of Labour in one respect - you don't have blank sheet of paper for your policies!

  • Comment number 21.

    The Ginger F. If you read my post #17, you will answer your question to me as to why it was predictable - because of the fickle nature of the British electorate. You may not agree with that, but I think the post was quite clear.

    In my opinion, the electorate are fickle. Yes they kicked out the Labour sham, and now they aren't happy with the new lot, and rather than this send any kind of clear message to the Coalition, it is my view that it merely confirms how fickle people are.

    Paul Latham - the people of Barnsley Central I'm sure have been badly hit by the cost cutting that the policies of the last Labour government have brought about, but everyone in the country is being hit hard. Unfortunately we are all going to have to take the medicine. And, before I hear bleating about labour councils being hit worse than Tory or Lib Dem councils, the example of Leeds and Manchester City councils is worth considering where they have the same cuts to make, but are doing so in drastically different ways, with Manchester City council making a raft od redundancies, many more than Leeds. So it isn't a foregone conclusion that cuts mean job losses, it depends how skilfully the cuts are managed. It would not surprise me one bit if Labour councils made things look worse to make a political point.

  • Comment number 22.

    Excepting local factors, the collapse in the LibDem vote does tell us something about what happens in a first-past-the-post electoral system when two parties go into coalition.

    The reason the LibDems traditionally did well in by-elections was that they were perceived to be the centre ground of left-right politics, so they represented the shortest move away from the most unpopular of the two main Parties - i.e. their vote was the barometer for protest votes - but in coalition, voters perceive them as part of "The Government", so a vote for them is not a real protest vote anymore - that's why UKIP has shot up as well as Labour.

    There is clearly also a "Clegg Factor" - his "Honest John" approach during the General Election won him respect and trust then, but this was followed by the Orange Book Coup immediately afterwards when firm manifesto commitments were replaced by policies 180 degrees different drawn straight from the Orange Book clique's agenda that was completely rejected by the LibDem Party. Clegg will now always be an electoral liability, unless the coalition delivers an economic miracle. (There go another flight of pigs...) And having been shanghi'd into a set of policies they opposed, many LibDems' loyalty to Clegg is under serious strain.

    It's the story of disillusioned Tory voters too - defence cuts, tax increases, job loses, police numbers/pay cuts, the list goes on - voters may not have liked Gordon Brown, but they don't like the slash & burn approach to public services either...

    I'd predict absolute hammerblows for the LibDems in the May Council and Scottish Elections - and a lot of votes are going to move not only to the left to Labour, but also to the right & UKIP south of the border.

    Alex Salmond will be left well teed up to win an independence referendum and in England three party politics will resume, but with UKIP as the third party.

    A full blown oil crisis on top of the UK already teetering on the brink of recession, plus £110 Bn being taken out of the economy will mean that George Osborne's budget next month will be as close to an economic suicide note as you can get.

    The vote on electoral reform is likely to be driven by the public's growing antipathy to Clegg, who is in effect saying "make me the kingmaker for evermore" - I know what my answer to that is, even though I support the principle of full PR, I've voting no.

    The only question left is just how much grit backbench LiDem MPs have - will they pull the plug, ditch Clegg et all, cause an election and side with Labour, or will they hang on in the hope of turning the corner by the end of the parliament?

    Clegg's time in power will therefore have:

    1. Brought the serious risk of the breakup of the UK - SNP triumphant.
    2. Elevated UKIP to third place and galvanised the anti-EU movement
    3. Empowered the libertarian grouping in thr Tory Party to go way beyond anything Mrs Thatcher thought to be politically possible
    4. Electoral reform will not happen and it will be a dead duck for a generation
    5. The Parliamentary LibDem Party will be able to meet in a London Taxi after the next election.

    If I were a LibDem, I'd not sit on my hands any longer. Clegg and his sidekicks are libertarian entryists to their Party, rather like the Militant Tendency was to Labour, but they've taken control and staged a coup d'etat through the mechanism of the Coalition Agreement and simply thrown the Party's manifesto in the bin.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm glad others are acknowledging my point that the reason Nick Clegg didn't show up was because right now he would have been mor of a liability than an asset.

    I think if is deplorable how little coverage there is of the budget deficit, the lack of balance in our economy, understanding of which is crucial to understanding why the government is taking the measures it is taking.

  • Comment number 24.

    Will 71 #21

    The councils up here in Yorkshire are having a very tough time with their budgets. Councillors of every political persuasion are in a quandry about how to handle the cuts. Redundant council workers will not find alternative jobs up here in Yorkshire. There are none!
    Bradford will make 700 workers redundant
    Leeds around 2000 redundant.

    You cannot tell me that the same will apply in the Home Counties.

    Cuts to budgets up here are devastating to the local economy.

    The South has always benefit from a strong economy with plenty of investment forthcoming.

    I have stood as a candidate in elections and I know the depth of the problems up here in Yorkshire and I have lived and worked in the South and I know which is tougher.

    The people of Barnsley fear for the future and I hope their newly elected Labour MP, Dan Jarvis, can deliver some hope and tangible benefits to the community.

  • Comment number 25.

    'Cuts to budgets up here are devastating the local economy.'

    Both the local and national economy are doomed if public sector wages play such a vital role as you say. Public sector jobs are paid with taxed, borrowed or printed money, which then passes on to the secondary tax consumers who supply goods and services to the public sector employees or benefit claimants. To keep the illusion of wealth going the government has to raise taxes, borrow money to pay not only for more borrowing but to service the interest payments on previous borrowings, and of course simply print more money.

    In the meantime no meaningful growth in the economy is taking place and ever higher taxation combined with our loss of global competitiveness continues to drive the private sector (the only sector capable of producing real growth, real recovery) into the dirt.

    Things are going to get very nasty very soon I fear as people who have been duped by Labour and their allies into believing budget reduction isn't necessary, and that the coalition are taking the action they are taking because they are malicious, sadistic, psychopaths who are getting their kicks out of seeing us all suffer, begin to feel the tug of their puppetmasters' hands on their strings.

    Why, because this false reality is unfortunately moronic enough to appeal and persuade the people who like to let other people do their thinking for them and those who do think, but with their emotions and not what passes for their intellect.

    But of course this for Labour and their allies is all about getting back in power at any cost. Even if there are mass riots, the pound collapses, the interest rate we pay on the billions we borrow goes through the roof, and we plunge through recession into a lasting depression. What does that matter compared with the cause of getting Labour back in charge at any cost?

  • Comment number 26.

    TMR #25

    'The cuts up here are devastating the local economy'

    From your comments you obviously are not a resident of the North.

    The public sector jobs in many northern cities are vital in ways people in the South cannot imagine.

    I am not aware of any political party that does not advocate a reduction and a realignment of public expenditure back to realistic levels. But how does putting tens of thousands of council workers out of a job help the economy? All this does is transfer people from the council budget to that of the benefit agencies.

    What this Coalition Government is not doing is taking a systematic and logical approach to budget reductions over a period of time.

    We are about to enter a 'double-dip' recession because this Coalition is refusing to deviate from a political dogma. Witness the attitude toward fuel costs: 62.4% of revenue goes straight back to the Treasury. Petrol has risen from circa 80p a litre two years ago to £1.29 per litre today.
    Who has benefitted? the Exchequer.

    Our Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, Chris Huhne, says this is an ideal opportunity to accept so-called 'green policies' to bail us out.

    This country is being run by people who have very little business knowledge, they are academics with an ideological approach to managing Britain's economy.

    I think the people of Barnsley are realists, be they Labour voters or otherwise, and like those in many northern towns and cities are being asked to pay a disproportionate cost for the political mistakes of others.

  • Comment number 27.

    This afternoon the Prime Minister announced that currently the government is paying £125,000,000 every DAY in interest on it's borrowings! In these circumstances it is not the so called ideology of the government you need to be worried about but the ideology of the people who we are increasingly indebted to and are thus totally dependent on for our survival, and in particular whether they feel we are still a good credit risk. If they begin to have doubts £125,000,000 million a day can soon become £200,000,000 a day and so on.

    We have to show these institutions we are not in denial about the mess we're in and are serious about doing what is required to put things right. Postponing or slowing down deficit reduction will only deepen the hole we're trying to dig ourselves out of.

    The public sector in this country should never have been allowed to outgrow the ability of the private sector to be able to pay for it. I'm sorry for people who thought they had cushy jobs for life having to take the no doubt generous redundancy instead. But who do you blame, not the ideology of Labour and the unions obviously, but the bankers for being so under-regulated, and a government that hasn't even been in power for a year yet. Yep, that makes perfect sense (not).

  • Comment number 28.

    TMR #27

    We all know that the public sector should not have been allowed to have grown this big [even Ed Ball's, Labour Shadow Chancellor, admits to this]

    The fact is that New Labour won three general elections in a row and considered they had a mandate to do what they did.

    The point about the arithmetic with the Coalition Government borrowings is that by making tens of thousands of council workers redundant it does not save very much money [and 28,000 armed services personnel]. This only moves the problem from one public sector budget to another [the benefit agencies]. Consider that a council worker is on the national average wage and then consider what benefits he will be entitled to. A net saving of around £2,000 is all that can be made per capita.

    Messrs Cameron and Osborne know that for their policies to work they must stimulate the private sector to create more jobs to absorb all these redundant people.

    Up here in the North it is most unlikely that these policies will be effective. Why? Because investment money from private sector entrepreneurs tends to get spent in the wealthy South-east.

    Your conclusion that by postponing or slowing down the deficit reduction will deepen the problem does not really provide a solution. May political commentators are criticising the governments hard line because they know a successful economy is the only long-term answer. Cameron will find serious future repercussions for his party if he does not ease back on these mistakes. I forecast this will wipe out the Lib Dems from ever getting a similar chance of government again.



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