Archive for the 'By elections' Category


LAB’s loss to the SDP in the Greenwich by-election exactly 30 years ago has lessons for the party today

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

A guest slot by Stodge

30 years ago today (roughly), I was pounding the wet streets of Greenwich on a miserable cold Thursday evening. I was doing knock-up for this woman:

   This was a by election in what was supposedly a safe Labour seat which had survived the 1983 Conservative landslide but the 1987 by-election was a disaster for the Party of Opposition. The third party vote (in this case the Conservatives) collapsed and Rosie Barnes swept home by over 6,600 votes.

Yet the abiding significance was not Alliance strength but Labour weakness. Greenwich showed how far Labour was from power and even though the 1987 Labour campaign had the imprint of Peter Mandelson, Greenwich showed that however many people wanted to vote Labour to help it win, many others wanted it to lose and would vote for the Party most able to make it happen.

It’s bad enough when people don’t want your party to win but worse when they actively vote tactically to ensure your party’s defeat.

As a Sheffield man had said a few years earlier, that was then but this is now.

The main message from Greenwich 30 years ago is one that resonates now following the Conservative win in Copeland last Thursday.

Labour are not only struggling to hold on to their current support levels but are also facing the prospect of people (including former supporters) determined to vote for opposing candidates to stop Labour winning.

I’m not a Conservative but nor do I support Labour. Unlike some, I don’t wish Labour ill nor do I wish to see its destruction and nor would such an event be desirable.

Government needs to be held to proper account and scrutiny – that requires a proper Opposition which could function as a credible alternative Government whether it follows similar policies to the existing administration or a completely different programme.

We clearly don’t have that now – Labour has two problems.

The first and lesser problem is Jeremy Corbyn – now, I have to confess I don’t share the visceral contempt for the man some have. He has however proved himself quite incapable and unsuitable to be Party leader yet alone a prospective Prime Minister.

His cardinal error is simple – there’s no problem talking to political groups whose aims are diametrically opposed to yours, indeed that’s how plural politics operates. If, as a political group, you wish to campaign within the boundaries of politics and the law for a United Ireland or for a Palestinia State, that’s fine. I’ve no problem with British politicians engaging with such groups.

However, the line is crossed when such groups seek to achieve their political objectives through violence and especially when that violence is directed at British people and British military personnel. At that point we cannot and must not engage politically with such groups.

For an MP to not only engage with groups advocating violence but then to stand up and support those acts of violence including the targeted assault of British civilians and soldiers is understandably well beyond the pale for most British people and yet that’s what Corbyn and McDonnell have done.

To call these “misjudgements” would be generous in extremis, others might use words like treason. If credibility and integrity are key measures for a prospective Prime Minister, Corbyn fails miserably.

Yet Labour’s biggest problem isn’t Corbyn – the much more serious problem is that Labour has nothing to offer in way of a credible alternative prospectus for Government.

If there is an economic policy at present, it seems to be to spend more money whatever the problem. In truth, the centre-left has failed to come up with a coherent economic response to the events of 2008. That doesn’t mean the muddled Conservative response of half-hearted austerity which has now become half-hearted reflation has helped much – for many people, living standards are stagnating as wage rises struggle to keep up with growing inflation and the public finances remain in a parlous state.

What then can Labour do?

There are three years until the next election – given the seismic shifts of recent times, it’s too early to call it lost but it’s hard to see where and how any recovery will manifest. It won’t while Corbyn is in charge but even if he is replaced by someone more telegenic and agreeable to the British public (clearly any new Labour leader will be pilloried by Conservative activists but they can be ignored), the absence of a viable and coherent programme will count.

Then there’s the small matter of Brexit . It shouldn’t be forgotten that for all the talk of Conservative division on Europe, Labour too has had its differences and while the Conservatives have for now rallied round Theresa May (even though between a third and two fifths of the party’s voters supported REMAIN), Labour’s divisions have been brutally exposed. Corbyn was always part of that anti-EU tradition (the “longest suicide note in history” contained a commitment to withdraw from the then EEC) and dates right back to the 1950s.

Labour should be trying to construct a blueprint for Britain in the 2020s and that could be quite socialist or social democratic in nature. May is not afraid to be an interventionist so we could be entering a renewed period of Butskellism. It could be argued Blair won in 1997 not by being different but by being the same as the Conservatives but simply managing things better.

BY 2025, with the Conservatives having been in Government for 15 years, a revived re-dedicated Labour Party could be a highly attractive proposition to an electorate tired of a Conservative party which will inevitably fall into the traditional trap of believing in its own invincibility and will start becoming gaffe-prone, insincere and out of touch.



The dark cloud on Labour’s horizon: total wipeout

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Just where is Labour’s floor for 2020?

One of the best political tips of the 2015 general election was to back Labour for 0-5 seats in Scotland. When William Hill first put the market up – after the independence referendum – they marked that outcome at no less than 125/1. (I apologise for not being able to namecheck the PBer who tipped the bet; I forget who it was.)

That price was a testament to the inertia of thinking as much as the inertia of politics but those who snapped up the long odds were handsomely rewarded. Those who didn’t presumably believed that such voting revolutions could not occur so quickly, ignoring that in fact it already had done. After the Scotland experience and the Copeland result, the question has to be ‘could it happen in England and Wales too?’.

The simple answer is ‘yes, it could’, though of course that doesn’t mean it will. Indeed, the crucial supplementary is ‘and if so, what are the chances?’.

Even so, the rate at which Labour is testing the capability of political commentators to find historic precedents for polling or electoral phenomena is a good indicator of the state of the party. Who would have thought that the Worcester by-election of 1878 would achieve such a renewed prominence?

One factor that makes Copeland (and Stoke) particularly significant is that they validate the opinion polls. These have been returning figures out of line with local by-elections, where the Tories have been doing a good deal worse and the Lib Dems a good deal better. We can now say with a little more confidence that for Westminster, the polling seems the more reliable.

And that polling has been dire for Labour. Close to two years after the last election, the Conservatives have a lead in at least the mid-teens, possibly the high-teens. Only the Blair 1997-2001 parliament is remotely comparable (and of course, that ended in a second landslide). Worse, since April last year – when they averaged about 32% – Labour has lost a steady half-point a month.

Projection is not prediction and we can’t assume that trend will continue but if there’s one thing that the local by-elections do prove it’s that the Lib Dems are no longer toxic. With Farron’s party still only on about 10%, there’s plenty more potential for Labour defectors. As it is, Labour is within touching distance of a post-WWII low in opposition and, though there are no polls from before the war, it’s probable that the 1983 low was the party’s worst in opposition since at least 1915*.

But there has to be a natural floor, doesn’t there? All else being equal, yes, there does. Labour has several firewalls: in London, in parts of Greater Manchester / Merseyside and in former mining or other heavy industrial areas of Yorkshire, the North East and Wales.

However, two spectral presences should stalk Labour minds. The first is 1981-3. The prospect of a formal split has receded in recent months as Corbyn’s leadership falters, his activist supporters have proven paper tigers in anything other than leadership elections and worries of mass deselections have diminished as moderates wait for the chance to go on the attack. Even so, if the left could rejuvenate, perhaps under a new leader, the risk of a formal split would once again become real. Similarly, if the Lib Dems started polling at or near Labour levels, some MPs might wonder whether the bigger risk would be to stay or to jump.

And the second, returning to the beginning, is Scotland 2015. As yet, there’s no party which could do an SNP: make wholesale inroads into the Labour vote and win 20%+ swings across the country. But maybe there doesn’t need to be. Even though UKIP fluffed their chance in Stoke on Thursday, their average national share has edged up over the last three months. The Lib Dems too are on the up. The risk is that rather than being swamped in a one-party tsunami, Labour’s coalition might just dissolve slowly but continually at the edges in all directions. There is no reason to assume that the 2020s could not be unlike what the 1920s would have been had Lloyd George and Asquith not behaved like a pair of squabbling children: a large conservative party, a large liberal one and a smaller, marginalised left-wing socialist party.

You would expect the natural checks in the system to prevent such an outcome. There are good incentives for MPs and activists to use the tools at their disposal to deliver the changes necessary to prevent disaster. However, those tools were ineffective when tried last year. Perhaps it will be second time lucky. Or perhaps Corbyn will get his act together and finally strike a chord with the public, or perhaps he’ll stand down voluntarily. If so, the country will gain an opposition again. Or perhaps not.

Inertia is a powerful anti-force in politics (as in life). Labour has huge built-in advantages that should enable it to survive the odd crisis. That said, Rome once had even bigger built-in advantages and look what civil war and self-indulgence did there. Nothing is forever.

David Herdson

p.s. I ought to apologise for anyone misled by my piece on Monday, where I tipped Labour to hold on in Copeland after my visit there last weekend. As was noted in the comments, I didn’t have chance to visit the inland parts of the constituency, which in retrospect were more staunchly Tory than I’d anticipated. Also, the final Labour leaflets on the NHS were so hard-hitting that they may have proven counterproductive; voters have a sense of fair play.

* Despite their cataclysmic result in 1931, when the National government won a majority of almost 500 and Labour was reduced to just 52 MPs, they actually polled reasonably well, winning over 30% of the vote. As they gained by-elections fairly steadily through the 1930s, it’s unlikely they dipped below that level afterwards. Much the same can be said for the 1920s: Labour polled 30%+ from 1922 on, and made gains in opposition, indicating that they would have polled higher in the interim had polls been taken. As Labour supplied ministers during the coalitions from 1915-22, we probably have to go back to at least 1915 for when Labour last polled below 23% in opposition. The one possible exception would be after the formation to the national government in 1931, when MacDonald ratted on his party. In that confused period and with Labour divided and in disarray, it’s not unreasonable to think that some very low scores might have been recorded. Unfortunately, no contested by-election occurred between the formation of the National government and the 1931 election, so we’ll never know.


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

Friday, 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


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

Friday, 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


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

Friday, February 24th, 2017

But this is his response to tonight’s results.



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

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Meanwhile over in Copeland, the Tories are going postal.



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

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

But an interesting tweet from an anti-Corbyn MP



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

Thursday, 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