Friday, 21 October 2016
Until yesterday most people were virtually ignoring the two by-elections that were due to take place. The first was a very low key affair as voters went solemnly to the polls to elect a replacement for the tragically murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. Neither the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP or the Greens contested the seat out of respect.
Labour candidate & former soap star (from Corrie) Tracy Brabin was opposed only by the usual assortment of nutters and fascists that inhabit the fringes of politics. Labour polled 86% of the vote on a 25% turnout.
Meanwhile Witney was supposedly a (very) safe Tory seat previously held by David Cameron with a whopping 20,000 vote majority. Nothing to see here right. The polls show The Conservatives with 47% of the vote, 17% ahead of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats almost out the picture with just 8%, just half a dozen MP's and seemingly unforgiven by the electorate.
Yet rumours started spreading on social media the night before the election that not only was there a "Liberal surge" but they might even win. The latter quite wishful thinking, but a surge there certainly was.
Although the Conservative candidate won as expected, Robert Courts was left with a greatly reduced majority of just over five thousand with 17,313 votes (down by 15.2%) whist the Lib-Dem challenger increased her vote by 23.4% coming second (up from third) with 11,611.
Labour went down to third place with just 15% of the vote (down 2%). It could have been worse for Corbyn but not all is at seems.
So many people (myself included) had written off the Liberals because Clegg let everyone down so badly when he was in coalition with Cameron. Student Fees and PR his broken promises. The electorate punished the Lib-Dems by purging nearly all their MP's from parliament. They seemed finished for good.
However since the general election the Liberals have won around 20 council seats and are seemingly reviving. Labour is in such disarray it has become unelectable, the Liberal Democrats are the usual beneficiaries of any decline in Labour's support.
However this by-election was in a solid Tory seat. Clearly a lot of traditional voters switched votes. The question is why?
Is it Brexit? Grammar schools? Immigration?
By-elections are difficult to analyse as they usually have lower turnouts and sometimes there are protest votes which return to their usual loyalties come the election. One thing is clear though Labour has proved unattractive.
A Liberal Democrat resurgence could be good news for Labour moderates and increases the much needed possibility of a new political re-alignment.
I certainly hope so.