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Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central: What have we learned?

February 24th, 2017

It is in the nature of political junkies, like sharks, to be constantly moving forwards, and like goldfish, to be constantly forgetting what has just happened.  We should try to do better.  In the wake of two extraordinary by-elections we should reflect on their implications.  Because, as it happens this time, their implications are manifold.

The Conservatives did incredibly well

This is one of those rare occasions where the media have actually underplayed something.  The Conservatives’ victory in Copeland is off-the-scale impressive.

Others have written about how Copeland was the first government by-election gain since 1982 and how it represents a new landmark not achieved since 1960, 1929 or 1878 according to taste.  The swing to the Conservatives is bigger than that to any governing party in a by-election since at least 1950.  The last time the Conservatives achieved a gain in vote share at a by-election was 1982 in Beaconsfield (by 0.1% against a Labour candidate called Tony Blair).  In Copeland, the Conservatives put 8.5% on their vote share.

But the Conservatives also did extremely well in Stoke Central.  They started in third but far from being squeezed they put on vote share there also.  Remember, this was one of only seven occasions since 1970 where a government party has put on vote share in a by-election.  To do so from third is quite remarkable.

Bear in mind that sitting governments normally do much better at general elections than in by-elections and the Conservatives are potentially heading for a landslide that would far eclipse 1983 and perhaps 1997.

UKIP now lack meaning

Stoke Central was supposed to be UKIP’s big opportunity.  A seat where they were already in second place with a relatively small swing required for victory, where they had a substantial existing vote share and where Leave had won overwhelmingly, it was by my reckoning in their top ten most promising targets.  But they made no real progress towards winning it.

It would be easy to lay the blame on the candidate.  Certainly he did not help.  Paul Nuttall, through his strained relationship with the truth, seemed to put the nut into Nuttall and in doing so he ensured that UKIP got the all out of f-all.

That would be easy, but it would be far from the whole story.  The Conservatives gained vote share in Stoke Central – even though they started third.  In some ways this was even more astonishing than their victory in Copeland.  By taking ownership of Brexit, the Conservatives have deprived UKIP of meaning.  You might very well argue that represents a victory for UKIP’s ideas, but as an electoral force the purple team now look marooned.

The Lib Dems are barely off the canvass in Leave-voting seats

The Lib Dems have been doing very perkily in local council by-elections and had put in excellent performances in the Parliamentary by-elections in Witney and Richmond Park.  But while they have increased vote share in Sleaford & North Hykeham, Copeland and Stoke Central, they have only done so from deposit-losing levels to barely respectable levels.  They were not remotely in contention in any of these three seats, despite rushes of enthusiasm from their activists (particularly in Stoke Central).

The Lib Dems have sought to position themselves as the party of Remain.  In Leave-voting seats, they have yet to succeed.  Worse, in the 1980s, they were able to scoop all of the None Of The Above vote for themselves.  With the advent of UKIP and the Greens, the NOTA party is not a single party any more.

It’s important to keep perspective.  The Lib Dems have improved markedly in Remain areas.  18 months ago they seemed completely irrelevant everywhere. They have work to do in Leave areas if they are going to be anything more than almost completely irrelevant. But at least they have some areas of relevance now.

Labour are in very very serious trouble

It is hard to overstate just how bad the Copeland result was for Labour.  They didn’t just lose, they were soundly beaten by the Conservatives.  They lost vote share in both Copeland and Stoke Central (and if the combined Conservative/UKIP vote had been as unevenly divided in Stoke Central as it was in Copeland, they would have lost both seats).  It’s unfair to compare Jeremy Corbyn’s performance with the 1997 results -– no one is expecting him to win a landslide – but it’s reasonable to compare his performance with 2005, a fairly run-of-the-mill overall majority.  In under 12 years Labour have lost over a quarter of their vote share in both constituencies.

Since the referendum vote, Labour have lost vote share at every seriously contested by-election.  Opposition parties should be gaining vote share at by-elections in all bar the most extreme circumstances.  The circumstances are extreme.

If any Labour supporters are comforting themselves that at least UKIP were seen off in Stoke Central, they are deluding themselves.  In almost every constituency, the Conservatives are their real opponents.  Both these results showed the Conservatives are doing unbelievably well.

If Labour are to avoid a defeat that exceeds that of the Conservatives in 1997 for severity, they need to act fast.  Time is not on their side.

Alastair Meeks





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If UKIP can’t crack FPTP soon it’ll find itself almost without elected reps when current MEP terms end

February 24th, 2017

Once again an election for a Westminster seat has highlighted the struggle UKIP has with first past the post elections. Even though it was placed third in terms of national vote share at GE2015 it only managed one of the 650 MPs. That was, of course, Carswell’s Clacton seat which he’d won in the 2014 by election when he’d stood as a defector incumbent.

Getting to be top dog in one of the Westminster seats requires a very different approach to campaigning than the party brand building that serves the purples well in the EU parliament elections.

The party has struggled enormously with English council seats as well for the very same reason.

The next PR type elections that could prove fertile for Nuttall’s party are those for the list seats in the 2021 Welsh Assembly elections.

Given where UKIP started from, 2nd at GE2015, in Stoke and the way the constituency voted in the referendum all looked good for the party especially as the leader had put himself forward.

It was not to be and the hoped for switching from GE2015 CON voters didn’t happen.

Would it have been any different with the nomination form address issue and of course the Hillsborough revelations? Hard to say.

But unless UKIP is very lucky indeed there won’t be a by-election with as much promise again before GE2020. The Tories have shown that they can pick up seats in the north.

Mike Smithson




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If Jeremy Corbyn wants to see Labour humiliated at a general election he will continue as Labour leader

February 24th, 2017

But this is his response to tonight’s results.

TSE



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If UKIP can’t win in the capital of Brexit then just where can they win without defector-incumbents?

February 24th, 2017

Meanwhile over in Copeland, the Tories are going postal.

TSE



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Expectations management or the harbinger of a truly terrible night for Labour?

February 23rd, 2017

But an interesting tweet from an anti-Corbyn MP

TSE



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Mega By-Election Week (Day Two: Take Two) : February 23rd 2017

February 23rd, 2017

Copeland Parliamentary by-election (Lab defence, caused by resignation of sitting member)
Result at last general election (2015): Labour 16,750 (42%), Conservative 14,186 (36%), United Kingdom Independence Party 6,148 (16%), Liberal Democrat 1,368 (3%), Green Party 1,179 (3%)
EU Referendum Result (estimate): REMAIN 40.15% LEAVE 59.85%
Candidates duly nominated: Michael Guest (Ind), Rebecca Hanson (Lib Dem), Trudy Harrison (Con), Ray Ivinson (Ind), Jack Lennox (Green), Fiona Mills (UKIP), Gillian Troughton (Lab)
Weather at close of polls: Whitehaven Cloudy, but dry 5°C, Keswick Heavy Rain 3°C
Estimate (based on historical trends): Labour HOLD on a swing of 1% from Con to Lab

Stoke on Trent Central Parliamentary by-election (Lab defence, caused by resignation of sitting member)
Result at last general election (2015): Labour 12,220 (39%), United Kingdom Independence Party 7,041 (23%), Conservative 7,008 (23%), Independent 2,120 (7%), Liberal Democrat 1,296 (4%), Green Party 1,123 (4%), Other Parties 276 (1%)
EU Referendum Result (estimate): REMAIN 34.98% LEAVE 65.02%
Candidates duly nominated: Mohammed Akram (Ind), Zulfiqar Ali (Lib Dem), Jack Brereton (Con), The Incredible Flying Brick (Loony), Adam Colclough (Green), Godfrey Davies (Christian People’s Alliance), Barbara Fielding (Ind), David Furness (BNP), Paul Nuttall (UKIP), Gareth Snell (Lab)
Weather at close of polls: Light Rain 4°C
Estimate (based on historical trends): Labour HOLD on a swing of 1% from Lab to Con

Tonight’s local elections

Chigwell Village on Epping Forest (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result of council at last election (2016): Conservatives 35, Ratepayers 13, Independents 3, Liberal Democrats 3, Green Party 2, United Kingdom Independence Party 2 (Conservative majority of 12)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Conservative 682 (62%), United Kingdom Independence Party 187 (17%), Labour 123 (11%), Green Party 63 (6%), Liberal Democrat 38 (4%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 28,676 (37%) LEAVE 48,176 (63%) on a turnout of 77%
Candidates duly nominated: Joanne Alexander-Sefre (Lib Dem), Darshan Singh Sunger (Con)
Weather at close of polls: Cloudy but dry, 5°C
Estimate: Too close to call

Barton on Kettering (Ind defence, elected as Conservative)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 26, Labour 9, Independent 1 (Conservative majority of 16)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,660, 1,319 (49%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 791 (23%)
Labour 683, 590 (20%)
Green Party 244 (7%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 21,030 (39%) LEAVE 32,877 (61%) on a turnout of 76%
Candidates duly nominated: Robert Clements (UKIP), Andrew Dutton (Lib Dem), Dianne Miles-Zanger (Con), Rob Reeves (Green)
Weather at the close of polls: Cloudy but dry, 5°C
Estimate: Conservative HOLD

Charterlands on South Hams (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 25, Green Party 3, Liberal Democrats 2, Labour 1 (Conservative majority of 19)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Conservative 1,092 (64%), Green Party 330 (20%), Independent 274 (16%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 29,308 (53%) LEAVE 26,142 (47%) on a turnout of 80%
Candidates duly nominated: Jonathan Bell (Con), Janet Chapman (Green), Elizabeth Huntley (Lib Dem), David Trigger (Lab)
Weather at close of polls: Clear, 5°C
Estimate: Conservative HOLD

An apology
Deja Vu : A Discussion
I wish to apologise to any members who may be experiencing a case of deja vu, that strange sensation that a person has lived through something before, this was due to a misunderstanding by myself that these by-elections listed above would be happening yesterday evening. This was a mistake on my part and I hope that members will not hold it against me

Compiled by Harry Hayfield



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Chances are that following the betting on by-election days won’t tell you anything and could be costly

February 23rd, 2017

The final 12 hours of betting on Richmond Park

Above is a chart showing the Betfair exchange prices on the day of December’s Richmond Park by-election. As can be seen those who were following the betting for their inspiration would have got it wrong until about 11:30 p.m.

At that point, it will be recalled, the TV news programmes started reporting that Labour campaigners were suggesting that the Lib Dems had gained the seat by majority of about 2000. As it turned out that was a slight overestimate but the prediction of which way was correct.

Those who had followed betting before that time and had assumed that somehow the market knew what was going on ended up losing money.

I publish this as a warning to punters betting on today’s by elections in Stoke central and Copeland. Nobody really will know anything until at least an hour after polls have closed at 10 o’clock.

The turnout figures could be a good pointer but early guesses and what they mean could be be misleading.

Longstanding PBers might recall the February 2006 Dunfermline by-election. The final price matched on Betfair seconds before the returning officer announced the result had LAB with an 83% chance. The red team lost.

Mike Smithson




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This week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast: Looking at Mrs Thatcher & how LAB can re-engage with disaffected working class voters

February 23rd, 2017

This week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast is split into two parts:
 
In part one, Keiran is joined by the former Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Daily Telegraph and Spectator Charles Moore. Charles is also the authorised biographer of former Conservative Prime Minister Lady Margaret Thatcher and still writes columns for the Telegraph and Spectator today. He spoke to Keiran to give his perspective on the recent Polling Matters / Opinium survey that showed Thatcher as the most popular PM of the past thirty years. Why does her legacy surpass that of her successors in the eyes of voters? How does Theresa May compare? Would Thatcher have voted Brexit and what should we make of the ‘fake news’ phenomenon?
 
In part two, Keiran is joined by Phil Burton-Cartledge. Phil is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Derby and a Labour activist. He also runs the blog ‘All that is solid’. Phil joined Keiran to give his perspective on how Labour would do in today’s by-elections, what is coming up on the doorstep and how Labour can reengage with disaffected working class voters? He also gives a useful background on Stoke and some of the issues facing the city and the surrounding area.
 
Follow this week’s guests
 
@keiranpedley
 
@charleshmoore
 
@philbc3