Mega By-Election Week (Day Two) plus a Copeland cartoon

February 22nd, 2017

Winklebury on Basingstoke and Deane (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Labour 824 (62% +32%), Conservative 472 (35% -11%), Liberal Democrat 42 (3% -3%)
Labour GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 352 (27%) on a swing of 21.5% from Con to Lab

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: Light Rain, 11°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: Heavy Rain, 10°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: Cloudy, but dry, 10°C
Estimate: Conservative HOLD


Applying huge governing party national poll leads has been a very poor guide to Westminster by-elections

February 22nd, 2017

Beckenham Nov 1997. (LAB polls leads 30%+)

Eddisbury Jul 1999 (LAB poll leads 20%+)

Kensington & Chelsea Nov 1999 (LAB poll leads 20%+)

Why the betting markets might be getting Stoke Central and more particularly Copeland wrong

Almost ever since the Copeland by-election was declared the Conservatives have been a very strong odds on favourites. As has been pointed out repeatedly for them to take a seat off Labour while being the governing party would be an extraordinary achievement and something that really hasn’t happened in modern times.

The last time that a governing party had constant double digit polls leads was the first Blair government from 1997 to 2001. During the Parliament the Tories defended four five seats, three of them which are listed above. It was the same pattern in Uxbridge at the start of the parliament. As can be seen the outcome was nothing like that which he Westminster opinion polls were projecting for the ensuing general election. Labour came nowhere near.

But the Tories did lose the other seat, Romsey, but that was to the Liberal Democrats and not LAB.

Historical precedents are there to be broken, of course, but I would be very surprised indeed if the Conservatives won Copeland tomorrow.

Mike Smithson


Why I’m betting that Paul Nuttall will be the next party leader out

February 22nd, 2017

Next leader to leave – William Hill
6/4 Nuttall (In from 9/4)
6/4 Corbyn
5/1 May
8/1 Sturgeon
12/1 Farron

At the weekend I had a bet at 9/4 with William Hill that Paul Nuttall will be the next party leader to exit his post. That’s since tightened to 6/4 which still looks a good punt.

Clearly amongst the other options Corbyn is most at risk but as we’ve seen he is a stubborn old man and the party rules make it very difficult to unseat him. Taking the overnight council by-election from CON on a big swing adds a touch to his position. Losing both Copeland and Stoke Central would increase the pressure but it’s going to take an enormous amount to shift him. I’m of the view that two LAB holds tomorrow would make it easier for him to stand aside.

It’s very hard to see about Nuttall continuing to head UKIP after what’s emerged in the last 4 weeks even if he should by some chance win tomorrow’s Stoke central by-election.

The Hillsborough aftermath, featured prominently yesterday in the Liverpool Echo (above), has been extraordinarily difficult for him to deal with. Add on top of that other issues relating to what was on his website and, of course, the question of the address used on his nomination form and my reckoning is that he’ll leave the leader’s job before Corbyn exit from LAB

William Hill is also offering 5/4 that he will no longer be UKIP leader at the end of 2017 which seems a value bet as well.

Mike Smithson


Storm Doris to hit Stoke and Copeland tomorrow with winds of up to 80 mph

February 22nd, 2017

What’s this going to do to the by elections?

With 24 hours ago to the crucial by elections in Stoke central and Copeland and the Met Office has issued a warning about the weather tomorrow.

As can be seen above things look as though they could be quite nasty and it’s hard to see how this will not impact on turnout.

The idea that poor weather can cut the number of participants in elections has been knocked on the head by several academic studies in recent years. However this looks like something very different and I cannot recall crucial by-elections taking place in conditions such as this.

    Where I think that this could have an effect will be with the hundreds of activists from outside who stream into by-election constituencies on polling days in order to help with the get out the vote operation. This can be so essential to maximise a party’s position in elections where the government of the country is not at stake and turnout is inevitably reduced.

Fewer activists in Stoke and Copeland tomorrow could mean fewer votes. It’s the impact on the distribution between the parties that could be crucial.

The general view is that the beneficiaries should be the campaigns which are most effective. It also means that those who’ve been successful in the early stages securing postal votes might find that these are at a premium.

As we saw at the general election Stoke, in particular, has a problem with voter turnouts anyway and the apparent awful weather might acerbate that.

All I can conclude is that the potential for surprises is perhaps even greater.

Mike Smithson


Mega By-Election Week : Day One (February 21st 2017)

February 21st, 2017

This week will see six by-elections but not all on the same day. There is a by-election tonight, three tomorrow night and on Thursday two Parliamentary by-elections that may break a duck that has lasted anything from 35 years to 57 years and create a vacancy at the head of the Opposition. But first, as they say in all the great stage plays, we have the opening curtain

Winklebury on Basingstoke and Deane (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result of council at last election (2016): Conservatives 33, Labour 19, Liberal Democrats 6, Independents 2 (Conservative majority of 6)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Conservative 1,404 (46%), Labour 933 (30%), United Kingdom Independence Party 549 (18%), Liberal Democrat 179 (6%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 48,257 (48%) LEAVE 52,071 (52%) on a turnout of 78%
Candidates duly nominated: Angie Freeman (Lab), Chris Hendon (Con), Zoe-Marie Rogers (Lib Dem)
Weather at close of polls: Cloudy, but dry, 10°C
Estimate: Conservative HOLD

Harry Hayfield


Fifty shades of grey voters. Corbyn’s punishing polling with older voters.

February 21st, 2017

Corbyn is doing worse with older voters, and history shows older voters turn out to vote and are a growing demographic.

A few weeks ago whilst looking at the polling entrails I was struck by how much of a lead with older voters Mrs May was developing over Jeremy Corbyn in the best Prime Minister polling. As we can see with the chart above, there’s a clear correlation with the older you get, the more you prefer Mrs May as Prime Minister.

With the recent YouGov poll, just 7% of the overs 65s think Corbyn would make the best Prime Minister, whilst 75% thought Mrs May would be.

Whilst some of this is an incumbency bonus because Mrs May is Prime Minister, these figures are explained because of the poor esteem Corbyn is held in by the electorate as evidenced in most polls.

When looking at how the over 65s plan to vote at the next general election from the most recent polls in the chart below, there’s some occasionally eye watering figures that appear, as Ipsos MORI looking like an outlier, with four of the regular pollsters showing the Tories leading Labour by at least 41% with the over 65s. This is something I shall be tracking over the next few months on PB.

With the recent Opinium and YouGov polls, Labour are now in third place with the over 65s, behind UKIP. With YouGov Labour are only 3% ahead of the fourth placed Lib Dems.

Adam Ludlow of ComRes pointed out that by 2020 “people aged 65+ will make up a quarter of the adult population” and coupled with the greater propensity of older voters to vote, these figures tend to presage an absolute shellacking for a Corbyn led Labour party at a general election, to use a popular culture reference, at the next general election a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party is set to play the role of Anastasia Steele to the electorate’s Christian Grey.


A couple of technical points about the second  chart. 

i) The ICM figure is from the VI before the spiral of silence adjustment, as the post spiral of silence figures are presented as headline figures and not broken down by demographics. The Tory lead with all voters over Labour before the spiral of silence was 20%, afterwards it became a 18% Tory lead.

ii) Ipsos MORI split their figures into two groups, 65 to 74 year olds, and 75 year olds and over, to ensure consistency for comparative purposes, I’ve averaged these two out to get an overall aged 65 and over figure.


Stoke Central is set to rank alongside Darlington in 1983 as one of the great by-elections of modern times

February 21st, 2017

An unlikely LAB hold in Darlington kept an unelectable leader in office

So much has happened in the Stoke central by-election that it it looks set to take its place in by election history alongside what many regard as the most sensational of all, Darlington, in 1983.

That took place exactly a month after the Bermondsey when Simon Hughes had an unlikely and still controversial win against LAB. The political atmosphere at the time, like today, was highly charged as the newly formed SDP was fighting to establish a parliamentary presence. The assumption in Darlington was that this would be an SDP gain but it turned out not to be because of the extraordinary public collapse of the party’s candidate.

He was a local television celebrity who was probed incessantly by the great Newsnight journalist, Vincent Hannah, and it became clear that he knew very little about public issues. Hannah was remorseless.

As it turned out the seat was held by LAB with a 4.6% majority over Michael Fallon for Tories. The winner, Oswald O’Brien, only had 3 months as an MP before Mrs.Thatcher called a General Election in which the Tories took the seat.

Many argue that the by-election had two big political consequences. It impeded the SDP’s momentum at a critical time and also helped reinforce Michael Foot position as Labour leader. There are those who say that if Darlington had been lost then Foot’s position would have been untenable and maybe the red team would have been led by Denis Healey at the 1983 General Election.

So the parallels with the current fight in Stoke central are very strong. We’ve seen the UKIP leader and contender struggle hard against a storm of media stories as well, of course, as the questions about the address he used on his nomination form.

I don’t know who is going to win on Thursday but given the poor publicity I think that Nuttall has a massive challenge. We could get a very tight result with four parties being very close to each other.

Mike Smithson


Impressions from Cumbria: Labour will win if they can turn their vote out

February 21st, 2017

Copeland gives a good demonstration of why governments so rarely gain by-elections

A wet and windy Saturday in Copeland is neither the time nor place to be wearing £250 brogues, as one volunteer reporting for duty in Egremont discovered (he was later spotted sporting rather less stylish but more functional off-white trainers).

I mention this not as advice – it’s too late for that – nor to poke fun at the volunteer, who shall remain nameless (it wasn’t me!), but as a miniature of the distance between the west of Cumbria and the big cities of Britain. Copeland is remote: very remote. Egremont, for example, is a long way from Barrow, never mind Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh or London.

And that matters because geography is playing an unusually prominent role in the by-election. You might be forgiven for believing that Labour’s candidate in Copeland is Gillian Troughton. Not so. She will simply be the beneficiary of Labour’s votes on Thursday because of the tiresome technicality of having to nominate a human being. The real candidate is West Cumberland Maternity Unit, which is where geography comes in.

You don’t really get an accurate impression from looking at a map at how cut off the west of Cumbria is. It has a few A roads linking the bigger towns and the coast, and the whole is only a couple of dozen miles from the M6 and civilisation. In reality, these roads are narrow and twist and turn constantly; one snowfall could paralyse the county. Those who live there know that and are understandably worried about their local hospital being downgraded. Even in good weather (and there was precious little of that during my visit this weekend), it’s well over an hour’s trip to Carlisle, the offered alternative. West Cumberland Hospital therefore has a sizable personal vote and Labour is hitting the Conservatives over the issue extremely hard.

Will it be enough? I don’t know. I saw a fair amount of activity from Labour activists while I was there, though that might just have been happenstance as to where I was and where they were. I didn’t see any Labour posters at all, even in the towns and villages that must have formed the bedrock of Jamie Reed’s vote, and that of Jack Cunningham before him; just the occasional window bill. To be fair, there weren’t all that many Tory posters either but there were at least some. The whole election seems low-visibility.

The rule of thumb for by-elections is that they exist to allow the electorate to give someone a largely cost-free kicking, and that usually it will be the government on the receiving end. There is no risk of any new government being formed so the desire to ‘send a message’ can be sated. The question in Copeland is which of two competing targets will be most kicked? Will it be the anti-nuclear and ineffective Corbyn or will it be the Tory government which, through whatever delivery mechanisms, has responsibility through the NHS for the local hospital?

My guess is that it’ll be the latter. It’s a real live issue of genuine concern and the decision to send pregnant mothers to Carlisle over precarious roads is one that could only be taken in a comfortable city-based office; it is a brogues option for walking boot country. Add in the fact that no government has overturned an opposition majority of more than a thousand at a by-election since well before WWII* and the conclusion ought to be a Labour hold.

To that end, the betting value is on the Labour double, teaming Copeland up with Stoke Central: Labour is 3/1 with Ladbrokes to hold two seats they’ve represented since the 1930s.

David Herdson

* The most recent instance of a government overturning an opposition majority of more than 1000 at a by-election is definitional. There are several possible candidates but multi-seat constituencies, parties not contesting either the previous general election or the subsequent by-election and other complications mean it’s not possible to give a definitive answer. Assuming we exclude Bristol SE in 1961 (where Labour polled most votes but was disqualified), the most recent possible example would be the decidedly odd 1929 Liverpool Scotland by-election.