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.