Friday, June 30, 2006

Bromley & Blaenau By elections

I thought I would take the opportunity of commenting on last nights two Parliamentary By elections (Bromley and Chislehurst, Blaenau Gwent) and a Welsh Assembly by election(Blaenau Gwent). While the results were disappointing for Labour in both elections, it has to be remembered that by elections has seen protest votes against every single incumbent Government with poor performances occurring with regularity. Come the general election with the focus shifted nationally the result usually reverts to normality and in many cases the seat reverting back to the previous holder.

Looking at last night's performance, the result in Bromley was appalling for David Cameron's Tories, this was the 17th safest Tory seat and a five figure majority was reduced to just over 600. This is a seat that should be true blue Tory territory, every council seat in the recent May elections elected Tory councillors and nearly all by substantial margins, it is a very affluent constituency and the Tories should have performed substantially better instead of only just scraping in. From my knowledge of London, I would in no way describe this part of London as the most liberally inclined or progressive area of London. Indeed the late Eric Forth was one of the most right wing Conservative MPs and certainly not particularly progressive. though he was probably a good indicator of the views of many of the people who live in this area.

The Tories do need to ask themselves questions about their campaign tactics, the Liberal Democrats in by elections always play dirty, negativity and slurs is an integral part of their campaign strategy (and believe me I have seen it first hand in elections) and Chris Rennard their campaign chief is an expert at these tactics. When it comes to elections they are by far the dirtiest and most unscrupulous campaigners in politics, all this holier then thou attitude they like to give is hypocritical like most of their policies. The Tories did not fight back against this and let the message got around about 'three jobs bob' which referred to all the jobs that Bob Neill had and his refusal to resign his GLA seat if elected.

In a seat like Bromley they should have at least got a few thousand majorities, after all when we were winning by elections in the mid nineties we were having swings in our favour. To actually go backwards has to be quite worrying for the Tories and shows the fragility and volatility of their vote. They were lucky Bromley was so safe, as if they had lost this by election it would have been a humiliation for David Cameron. In retrospect, the Tories could have probably done with a different candidate though if you get the tactics wrong it may not have made much difference to the overall result.

From a Labour perspective, in Bromley we went from 2nd to 4th though some of this can be attributable to tactical voting. This seat has never been known as a bastion for Labour support and it was always likely to be the case that our vote would fall substantially. I would have liked it to be higher, but if people had realised it was going to be so close our vote would probably have fallen further to probably under 1000 and our deposit lost (5% of the vote needed). The momentum here was clearly with the Liberals who fought the seat hard.

Turning to Bleanau Gwent this is a seat that where we suffered a huge loss in support at last year’s election and saw the Independent Peter Law romp home. Until the election, this was one of our safest seats in the country, while we have made some comeback in the seat and an increased our vote it was not enough and lessons still need to be learned from the result. Bleanau should revert to Labour at the next election (not so sure about the assembly next year) as I believe that a great deal of the independent vote was a protest vote over events that have happened in the past and an opportunity to kick the government. A unique set of local circumstances existed which makes it difficult to fully read into the result, though quite clearly issues exist that are still prevalent and need dealing with.

Where next? Labour has been in Government now for nine years, any government that has been in for that length of time will hit a period of unpopularity, it happened under the Tories and it is happening under Labour. Having lead in the opinion polls for thirteen years (the longest ever) we now find ourselves behind, though only by a few percent (nothing like the 20+ deficits the Tories had under Major). Events that happened nationally have not been helpful to our position and we clearly need to re-engage with people. However, I do not believe we are in terminal decline or about to see Dave Cameron as PM. A new leader is likely to be elected in the next two years (most probably Gordon Brown) which inevitably will give a boost to Labour support in the short term (all new leaders enjoy some king of honeymoon period). The Labour Government has a lot to be proud of over our nine years in office, the duty now is to build on our achievements and to renew ourselves like any organisation has to do after a long period in government and this is by far the longest ever time we have been in power nationally.

I would welcome comments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is a "By Election" the same as a "Bye Election"?

4:59 pm  
Blogger Martin Whelton said...

Yes they are termed by elections and it is correct.

6:58 pm  
Blogger snowflake5 said...

You are right that these results are more hopeful for Labour than the Tories. The majority for the independent in Wales was reduced. And if the Tories really were the threat they claim to be, they'd be 50% in the polls and winning everything in sight as Labour did in the lead up to 1997.

I wonder if the Tory right will do to Cameron what they did to Hague et al - scupper every single attempt to modernise. We might even get yet another Tory leadership contest.

Labour need to hold tight, not quarrel and concentrate on sorting out the home office (our only weak point).

10:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the Liberal Democrats in by elections always play dirty, negativity and slurs is an integral part of their campaign strategy (and believe me I have seen it first hand in elections)"

Really? You mean like Wimbledon Labour's leaflets 'from' Charles Clarke setting out 'Lib Dem policies' that people would (hopefully) disagree with? All parties have a disgusting habit of making their campaigns personal - I don't think that pointing out Bob Neill has three jobs is really in the same league as starting a rumour that Colliers Wood Greens would open brothels though . . .

12:11 pm  

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