Friday, June 30, 2006

That's enough by-election baloney

You could draw all sorts of conclusions from last night's by-election results in which Labour failed to regain Blaenau Gwent and the Tories held onto Bromley by a whisker. To take just three examples:

* Labour cannot win either in Middle England or its heartlands, given its defeat in Wales and fourth place in Bromley.

* The Tories' modernisation agenda has been a failure, given that the party's vote in Bromley dropped by 11,000.

* The Lib Dems' strong performance in Bromley, coming within 633 votes of victory, means Ming Campbell's leadership is now secure.

And it's all complete baloney.

Although by-elections do have an impact on national politics and party morale, they tell us very little about the overall mood of the nation.

A classic example was the Darlington by-election in 1983. The SDP-Liberal Alliance went into it with high hopes, but Labour's Ossie O'Brien won with the Tories in second place.

The result had a profound political impact. It secured Michael Foot in his leadership of the Labour Party, foiling an NEC plot to replace him with Denis Healey, and that in turn convinced Mrs Thatcher to call a General Election, certain that she could not lose to the veteran leftie.

She was right of course - but what happened at Darlington? The Tories' Michael Fallon won the seat, with O'Brien in second place and the Alliance a distant third.

Similarly, I don't think the results in eiother Blaenau Gwent or Bromley tell us anything at all about how voters would behave nationally if there were to be a General Election tomorrow.

The Welsh Labour Party has got itself into a characteristic pickle in Blaenau Gwent, but it is effectively a little local difficulty, as Macmillan might have put it.

And Bromley? Well, there seems to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Tory blogosphere today about their narrow squeeze, but they should relax.

As I have written on Mr Dale's blog - and as I am sure all England fans will agree - a win is a win is a win.

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skipper said...

Quite right Paul. Tories lost a big byelection in 1991 but won general election a year later. Results in both signify not very much except remind us the bollocks parties always spout to justify either victory or defeat.

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PoliticalHackUK said...

I generally agree - it is just a by-election and the Tories lost lots of them before finally being ejected in 1997. The results are an indication of the effectiveness of the Liberal Democrat machine and (I believe) an intentionally low key Labour campaign with the intention of embarassing Cameron all combined with the typical low turn out.

Cameron should take note, but he's not had a bloody nose. Ming is being held up by his people and he'll be a liability in a general election campaign when he's the focus. Labour has problems, but they are recoverable - if the party wants to do it. Blair seems to be a continued liability and this will only worsen as his clock ticks down to departure.

You only need one vote more than the opposition to get a majority. Anything else is just for ego.

Anonymous said...

There is more here than you are seeing - it's just that the implications are a bit broader and deeper than electoral prospects. The loss in Blaeanu is indicative of two trends. The first is internal to the Labour Party - its grass roots have been cut away from the central party. Recall that this was Bevan's and Foot's constituency and that traditionally Welsh Labour is hyper-loyal beyond all ideology. There are special circumstances but they are not only the exclusion of Law from the list but the failure of 'London Labour' to attend to the place, even to send representatives when steel plant closed. A combination of circumstances have made BG noticable but a lot more consituencies will be feeling the same way and this will manifest itself in apathy and no help on the doorstep. In some seats that will matter a lot.

Secondly, the BG result is indicative of one of the most important trends in UK politics but almost wholly unremarked by London-based commentators - the increasing impact of devolution. Labour in Wales is now a very different thing to Labour in England. Remember that in Wales there are no foundation hospitals and no specialist schools. Two flagship Blair policies simply do not exist there. No tuition fees and no state schools. A different curriculum and a different funding system. Such differences are also apparent in Scotland adn the impact on the Parties will be profound.

The Bromley result is a confirmation of the Cameron stratgey - the low result was in part caused by the local party refusing to adopt any of hte Cameron tactics and pursuing a traditional line with a traditional tactic.

And finally both results are indicative of the long term trend away from mainstream political partys; the general mistrust and distaste for them, the declining levels of active support they can attract (such as to lead Labour to invent a new category of associate members to try and make up the numbers).

This trend will increase and all it needs to break things open is a few charismatic individuals to start putting themselves forward in a few constituecies. The Martin Bell effect is not yet over.

James W.

Toque said...

I agree, I can't believe the column inches wasted on trying to analyse what it means for the parties and their leaders. The fact is that it is almost irrelevant unless we are voting in a general election for who will form the next government.

Manchester University Labour Club said...

What annoys me is that the media spent so much time concentrating on the parliamentary seat and literally none on the assembly seat.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is right re. the decline in support for mainstream parties (or at least the two main parties). As the Nuffield guide notes, last May's GE saw their combined share of the vote decline to under 70% (whereas, not so long ago, it was around 90%).

It may be that the rules of the by-election game have changed - the Tories don't need even to get good results in their own strongholds at parliamentary by-elections, let alone to win safe or marginal Labour seats at by-elections (as they did in the late 60s and late 70s) because voters increasingly use by-elections to stick two fingers up to the opposition party, not just the government.