South Shields: Why bother with a by-election?

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 27th March 2013

After David Miliband’s shock resignation we’re looking at a by-election in South Shields.

At the Electoral Reform Society we care about elections. But in the case of South Shields we’re wondering what’s the point?

The Tyne and Wear seat hasn’t changed hands since 1935. It’s among Labour’s safest. With the result of the election known today, couldn’t we could forgo the ‘formalities’ of an election?

We know the result already. The only thing we don’t have is a candidate. South Shields next member of parliament is now being decided by party bosses. Local voters will not get a look in.

We’ve had wars, recessions, and political earthquakes and this seat that has never changed hands.

Sadly it’s not just a problem in South Shields. We’ve looked at the evidence. We have 232 seats in parliament haven’t changed hands since World War 2 – with 32 seats unchanged since the time of Queen Victoria. And in these seats elections are simply a formality.

First Past the Post makes safe seats the Rotten Boroughs of the 21st century. They take power away from local voters and hand it to Central Office.

South Shields and Safe Seats:

  • South Shields last changed hands between parties in 1935. When Tony Blair announced the date of the General Election in 2001 incumbent David Clark MP immediately vacated the seat to make way for David Miliband. Within weeks of the general election Clark was given a life peerage.
  • Arthur Blenkinsop (MP from 1964-79) was the only MP representing South Shields since 1929 with local connection – and the only one not to rise to become a Cabinet Minister.
  • The average UK parliamentary seat has not changed hands between parties since the 1960s.232 have not budged since WW2 – with 32 Seats in one party control since the reign of Queen Victoria.
  • Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson holds Britain’s safest seat – North Shropshire – which has been in one party control since 1835. 2nd place goes to David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden – 1837) and 3rd to Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton – 1840)

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