Friday, July 20, 2007

Small victories

Nice work in Sedgefield and Ealing from the comrades.

By-elections are the strangest of beasts - entirely unpredictable and liable to swing on local issues that wouldn't register in a general election campaign. They are also reliably unreliable for governing parties - the Tories lost by-election after by-election during their eighteen years in power, but still managed to win parliamentary majorities on the big days. The LDs have done exceptionally well at this game because they know how to fight these short-term, locally-focussed campaigns, but their local successes don't tend to transfer to national returns.

By that measure, although the scale of the Tory defeat in Ealing is embarrassing, given the profile of the campaign in recent days and the amount invested in their candidate - a man who has yet to complete a month as a member of the party - it should be just a little local difficulty for Cameron. It is damaging, certainly, but despite the positive words from the campaign team and the blogosphere, neither seat was likely to go any other way than to Labour. Caroline Spelman was rather poor on the Today programme this morning, repeating the mantra that the defection of five councillors was a great victory for the party - a pattern adhered to by Grant Shapps on Iain Dale's site as well. Five councillors, each of whom threw their toys out of the pram when they didn't get what they wanted and each vulnerable to defeat the next time their seats come up is hardly a massive vote of confidence by the electorate. It again demonstrates that for all the pro-Cameron spin from Central Office, it isn't penetrating into the electorate to the depth that some claim.

The LDs did OK - there was some nervousness about their potential in Ealing, as they retained the same candidate from 2005 and with a by-election team could have fancied their chances, but they didn't end up challenging enough - they just couldn't find a local issue to chew over and spit out.

There is more comfort for Brown - what could have been a poor result has demonstrated that support has held up reasonably well. Given that turnouts are typically lower, that the Labour vote is fragile and that the opposition parties usually do quite well, I would say that even thought these are 'safe' seats, this was a pretty good result for Gordon.


Freddie said...

At least Ming is safe.

PoliticalHack said...

You know something, Freddie - I agree with you. Something I can take to the pub later and toast the venerable Mingster. Long may he continue in post, for that way promises success for Labour (and the Tories, natch)

snowflake5 said...

The funniest thing about the Tories in Ealing-Southall was the way their political party was styled "David Cameron's Conservatives".

Even Blair at his most egotistical didn't dare to style Labour as "Tony Blair's Labour" - he'd have been lynched by Brown, Prescott, Cook, Dewar and others. Political parties have to be about more than one person.

PoliticalHack said...

Aside from the usual Welsh and Scottish variants, Tory candidates may also be styled
Conservatives: Stop the hospital cuts
Conservatives: Vote blue, go green
David Cameron's Conservatives
Local Conservatives

Labour only use the standard regional variations.

Simon said...

Ealing Southall was going to be an all-women shortlist had Khabra lived and retired at the next GE, as he was planning. As things turned out, Labour suspended the AWS for the by-election, and the NEC produced a shortlist of two undistinguished men, excluding the very talented Ealing Labour group leader Cllr Sonika Nirwal.

The suggestion is that the ageing and useless 'community elders' in Southall would not have taken to the idea of voting for a young woman and that, in by-election conditions, this would have been enough for Labour to lose the seat. Which may or may not be true, but the net effect was that the best candidate didn't even have the chance to put herself to the local membership for selection.

Stitch-ups like this, which inevitably favour mediocre but long-serving local journeymen (always men), are part of the reason I think all-women shortlists are a good idea. I do hope Sonika Nirwal finds a good seat for the next election, it's just a shame it couldn't be her home seat.