Sunday 25 May 2014

UKIP and the BNP win seats in Failsworth and Nelson: the party system is falling apart

Warren Bates is in his mid-70s and on Thursday he captured Failsworth West for UKIP. Brian Parker was elected for a third time to represent the Marsden ward on Pendle Council for the BNP. I lived most of my life in Failsworth, and for three years in Marsden, Nelson, so I know both men and their districts. The part of Failsworth that Warren now speaks for is dominated by the massive council estate that I used to live on, and Marsden is at the heart of Nelson, a small mill town that used to be known as Little Moscow. How did this come about?

I was in the Labour Party along with Warren back in the 1980s, which is how come I got to know him. He was a bus driver at the time, and proudly wore his driver's uniform to party meetings. I suspect that like me he found the bulk of the members who tended to belong to the well-paid polyocracy a bit hard to take, which is probably why he showed up in uniform. For his part, Brian was my councillor when I lived in Nelson. An amiable bloke who is perhaps not the most eloquent of men, a generation ago he would have belonged to the Labour Party that dominated Nelson for decades:

Warren left Labour and joined the Liberal-Democrats, then jumping over to the Greens, before finally settling in UKIP. I do not know if Brian was ever actually a Labour Party member, but he does have about him the air of a Labour man, so it says more about today's Labour Party that neither of them belongs to it than it does about either Warren Bates or Brian Parker.

Failsworth West was held by a John Battye, the former leader of Oldham council until he was defeated in his Failsworth East ward a decade ago in a Liberal-Democrat landslide. He returned to the council in 2010 to represent the other half of Failsworth, and that in itself tells me just why Warren Bates was able to snatch the seat on Thursday.

John lives in Grotton, a leafy little village in the heart of Saddleworth, which is itself a wealthy part of town. He was employed until his retirement as a senior NHS figure, and would have had no chance getting elected for Labour in his home area. So he became a political carpetbagger and looked elsewhere for a seat.

This is the main reason why Warren won on Thursday: he is a local man who is well known on the Failsworth council estate that he now represents. You will never see John Battye in the area, slurping beer in one of the pubs, but you will see Warren Bates. As people mistrust the old parties more and more, that local base is important.

In Nelson, Brian was able to hold off against the combined might of the old parties, plus the Trotskyite freakshow that is Unite Against Fascism, precisely because he lives in the middle of the ward that he represents and anyone with a problem can knock on  his door and be invited in for a chat and cup of tea. In a world where the main parties are made up of careerist carpetbaggers, being local helps enormously. By way of contrast, his opponents, especially the freakshow element were largely shipped in to patronise the natives and tell them how wicked the BNP is. 

In a nutshell, as the party system creaks under the weight of its own failure to represent people, the only politicians who are really trusted are the ones that people know as their neighbours, such as Brian Parker and Warren Bates.

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