Richmond, Labour & Lost Deposits
You can find many explanations via Google for what the result of Thursday’s By-Election in Richmond might mean for UK politics. Personally I agreed with Jay Rayner’s tweet that at least Zac Goldsmith had been responsible for two of the best moments of a not terribly great year- losing the London Mayor to Sadiq Khan and losing his seat as an MP.
An interesting footnote to the result, observed inevitably by those who focus on political minutiae- and the odd labour historian such as myself- was that in polling 3.7% of the vote Labour lost its deposit.
For either Labour or the Tories to lose their deposit in a Parliamentary election is of course not unheard of but it is comparatively unusual.
This is perhaps more so since the deposit was increased to £500 in 1985 and the threshold reduced from 12.5% to 5%.
An obvious explanation for the lost deposit in Richmond is that voters on the left (those that turned out anyway- the poll was 53%) wanted to punish the Tories, the Brexiteers or both and saw the LibDems as the way to do this. After all in political territory terms South-West London has some history of LibDem support, Labour perhaps a little less so in recent times.
That said 3.7% remains low. Of course Labour stands in elections to win them but it invariably stands in more or less all UK constituencies (except the Six Counties) and in some of those there isn’t a great chance of victory. The purpose of standing, at least historically, was to present an independent working class political presence at the polls (sometimes socialist) and expect that there is a certain bedrock of voters that will back that come what may.
You might say that Richmond suggests that Labour’s core vote is in doubt or at the very least that political volatility in general means it’s not an absolute given. You might also say that one By-Election with a specific context can’t really prove these points one way or another.
Any way the post-1945 figures for lost deposits at General Elections are at this link:
It doesn’t have data for 2015 where Labour lost 3 deposits, 2 less than in 2010.
Some perhaps significant points are that Labour lost a lot of deposits in 1983 under Michael Foot (but taking into account that was still the 12.5% threshold) and didn’t lose any in the New Labour electoral period, although that may have been as much to do with Tory unpopularity.
I should add that from my left perspective elections are far from the only way to change the world and that electoral statistics are a crude measure of what is happening to the political views of ordinary people but, that said, historical comparisons still have some interest.