LAST SUNDAY, the nation's voting analysts, amateur and professional, were looking at the outcome of the Grimsby and Ashfield by-elections and reaching their conclusions.
They found that they were all agreed, and with that conclusion they patted each other on the back and said how wise and how clever they really are to all have come to the same conclusions despite the votes cast.
This Sunday they will all be doing the same as they examine the result of the local elections, marvelling at their own wisdom as they draw the direst conclusions.
The Conservatives in England and the Nationalists in Scotland will be gorging themselves on the number of seats they have won. Labour and Liberal will be grateful for the few crumbs. The Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists will all he chortling that these results forecast in a General Election that they will win in a landslide. Labour and Liberal will be saying: "There are always protests against the Government in mid-term." So what is the truth?
I don't know: but unlike Jesting Pilate I am prepared to try to find an answer. I believe the truth lies in the fact that you cannut take people for granted.
I am sorry that Labour lost Ashfield and lost so many local government seats. Knowing the sterling value of all my colleagues who are candidates In byelections and in the county council elections, I am just amazed that the electorate could so easily disregard their obvious qualities and their splendid policies and vote for the opposition parties even vote Conservative.
Yet if I was a Labour voter living in Ashfield or Durham or some other Labour fortress, or a Conservative living in Surrey or Orpington or Berwick-on-Tweed, 1 would resent the attitudes of the parties and the political commentators who assume that because of my past party allegiance or voting behaviour, my vote can be taken for granted.
Once political parties start taking people for granted, they are on the slippery road to becoming arrogant and to despising people — a sure way to electoral disaster.
Labour lost Ashfield, for among other reasons, because it assumed that the miners would always vote for a Labour candidate: Labour won Grimsby because it realised that it had a difficult fight to maintain the seat, chose an exceptionally good candidate, created an efficient organisation, went out fighting to win the votes, and took nothing for granted. That is the difference between the two results.
I spent a number of days in the Grimsby by-election, doing all the jobs that an ordinary party worker does — knocking on doors, filling in envelopes, counting canvas returns and making pots of tea. There was an atmosphere of quiet efficiency and team-work about the office which I had not observed in any Labour byelection since my own over a decade ago.
I had gone back to the House of Commons, reported to the Prime Minister that while I did not think Labour would necessarily retain the seat, we would go down with all colours flying. It would not be a disgrace.
Secretly 1 had been so impressed that 1 had a bet on the result. A political journalist gave me Ilse to one against Labour winning the seat, so I agreed and £5 should now be on its way to CAFOD. If I lost I was to give the £1 to OXFAM.
The real question to come out of both the Parliamentary byelections last week is not why Labour lost Ashfield, but why the Conservatives did not win Grimsby.
There are a number of tentative conclusions that can be drawn from the election results m mediate tactical considerations, not long-term strategies. With two lost deposits there will he no kamikaze members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party seeking to bring down the Labour Government.
Once the new Devolution Bill emerges in the next session of Parliament the Government should be safe for another 12 months: with Nationalist support and with the economic upturn, who knows, maybe Labour's Shangrl La is just around the corner.
The great victor in both those by-elections was the British elector. He refused to be taken for granted. The Conservatives were bound to win Grimsby and lost: Labour were bound to retain Ashfield and lost.
Analysts can' examine the voting statistics like soothsayers of old exams the entrails of a sheep, but the British people are not sheep. Three cheers for the British people! I pray that with their sturdy independence they will maintain the majority of the Labour candidate lu Central Hull!