Posts Tagged ‘by-elections’

The future for Corbyn is grim but Saturday’s Open Labour conference gives cause for hope

09/03/2017, 07:10:40 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-elections in Stoke Central and Copeland showed that Brexit remains the dominant fact in British Politics – and while Corbyn’s shift to a pro- Brexit stance while helpful in retaining Stoke did nothing to provide a national UK wide strategy. Paul Mason believes the strategy was purely by election driven. In fact it is not even by election driven, it would not work in strong Remain seats. These two had Leave majorities, which seems to have dictated the shift. In the event, in both seats the majority of those voting on a low turnout voted for real pro-Brexit parties, discounting Labour as its conversion was insubstantial – as UKIP pointed out. And a further conclusion has to be that while the Compass strategy of a progressive alliance could theoretically work in by elections where there is a Remain majority, in Leave seats it does not work.

The share of the vote for the strong Leave parties, Tories and UKIP, discounting Labour’s shift to a Leave position, was virtually identical and greater than the other three parties in both seats. In Copeland, UKIP fell to 7.2% of the vote and Tories rose to 44.2% presumably in consequence, giving the strong Leave parties 51.4%.  As Labour got 37.3%, Libs 7.2% and Greens 1.7%, had the Compass strategy operated and all the Lib Dem and Green votes transferred – a very big assumption – the Labour share plus the others would have been  46.2%. This would have outvoted the Tories on the day had it happened, but would still be less than the strong Leave parties combined.

In Stoke Central the Labour share totalled 37.1%, confirming this was no longer a safe Labour seat. If the Tories, with 24.4%, can do what they did in Copeland and gain UKIP votes, UKIP  gaining 24.7% in Stoke Central, Tories could do well in the successor seat – Stoke central is about to vanish. As for Progressive Alliance, while it was not needed, its worth noting that with Lib Dems getting 9.8% of the vote and the Greens 1.4%, the total of 48.3% would have been less than the 49.1% the two strong Brexit parties totalled.  All academic of course, but no great advert for the progressive alliance which in Leave voting seats is unlikely to deliver the anti- Tory Vote compass thinks is needed.


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The by-election boom is a flashing red light for Labour

19/01/2017, 05:55:20 PM

by Rob Marchant

Coming hot on the heels of that of Jamie Reed, the resignation of Tristram Hunt may not be a huge surprise to many. A decent and politically-sensible member of the House, if not the obvious next leader he was sometimes billed as. In the end, it is perhaps inevitably those who least see politics as their true vocation, who soonest see more attractive things on the horizon.

But there’s an important take-away here. It’s simply not normal to have three MPs resign their seats in a month. Unless they are pushed, seriously ill or are going for another political job*, it’s really, really unusual for them to “just resign”.

The fact that three by-elections have been caused in the last month through MPs “just resigning” – two Labour, one Tory – is not just unusual, it’s unprecedented in recent political history.

First let’s deal with the Tory MP, Stephen Philips. His party is certainly in turmoil; over Europe, as it always is. The marginalisation of pro-Europe Tory MPs within their own party is a phenomenon which has gradually been developing over more than twenty years, since the days of John Major’s Cabinet “bastards” and before.

Even so: Brexit, let’s face it, is not exactly politics as usual. Philips was a man at his limit: a man who, as the saying goes, was mad as hell and decided he wasn’t going to take it any more. But it took a tumultuous, once-in-a-generation event to make it happen, and the current state of Labour makes Tory frictions look like a Conservative garden fête.

No, checking back through by-elections since Labour left office in 2010, there are very few and largely exceptional instances. David Miliband was a pretty unusual situation (how many political fratricides can most of us remember?). David Cameron had to resign as PM. And, well, La Mensch is La Mensch. And in the previous two parliaments there were zero. Nada. Zip.


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Uncut predictions for 2017: Ukip won’t win the Copeland, Leigh or Walton by-elections

06/01/2017, 04:55:22 PM

The first test of Ukip’s electoral potency under its new leader, Paul Nuttall, comes in the Copeland by-election, following the unexpected decision of Jamie Reed to stand down from Parliament.

Despite voting for Brexit by 62/38 per cent, the West Cumbrian seat doesn’t feel a natural prospect for the kippers. Certainly when compared to parts of Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Remote and politically tribal, Copeland feels like a straight Labour/Tory face-off.

Having polled extremely well in the Heywood and Middleton by-election in October 2014, coming within 600 votes of beating Labour, Ukip has very publicly struggled to assemble a decent ground game and lacks campaigning apparatus and experience when it matters most.

Other by-elections in Wythenshawe and Sale East in February 2014 and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough in May 2016 have revealed this telling weakness, with underwhelming Ukip performances in seats where they should have pressed much harder.

Anyway, the party is under new management and needs to show momentum in the post-Brexit and post-Farage era.

Nuttall, an MEP for the North West, knows this and will be looking for a decent showing in the Leigh and Liverpool Walton by-elections that will follow May’s election of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram to the new metro mayoralties in, respectively, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Liverpool’s Labour party is well-organised for such a fight and the city was one of the few Labour heartlands to vote Remain (58/42 per cent). But it’s academic: Walton is Labour’s safest parliamentary seat in the country, with a gigantic 27,777 majority and 81 per cent of the vote.

Although Labour had a 14,096 majority in 2015, Leigh has suffered a precipitous decline from its heyday as a mining and textiles town and it’s exactly the type of working-class seat where the kippers hope they can break through.

Indeed, Nuttall is said to be mulling a run as the candidate himself.

The reason he initially decided against challenging for the Ukip leadership was because he wanted to focus on winning a parliamentary seat himself. He knows the stakes are high and a strong performance is essential to maintain Ukip as a brooding threat in Labour’s backyard, his professed electoral strategy.

But he’ll get no joy in Leigh either. There are no Ukip councillors for a start, while Burnham is popular locally and his (slightly) controversial speech castigating free movement the other week, was an early attempt to head off Ukip’s appeal on the issue. Moreover, Leigh has only had four MPs since 1923 – all Labour. The seat will remain loyal.

Expect to hear Nuttall hedging his bets about standing in Leigh until the kippers get the lie of the land.

Then, when they do, he’ll pretend he was never going for it.

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In praise of…the hardy souls that fight these by-elections

28/02/2013, 07:00:52 AM

by Peter Watt

Early this morning there will have been alarm clocks (or more likely alarms on mobile phones) going off in hotels and guest houses in Eastleigh and beyond.  Activists will have woken from their slumbers in order to do the polling morning delivery.  Ideally they’ll be delivered before the polls open at 7 but in many cases it will still be being delivered later.  Committee rooms will be being set up members and supporters houses as the culmination of a few weeks frantic campaigning is reached.

The parliamentary by-election is a very special event for all dedicated political activists.  It’s where you often learn your trade and hone new skills.  It’s where war stories are shared from previous electoral battles and new scars are earned.

My first by-election was the south east staffordshire by-election held in April 1996.  I was nursing in Dorset at the time but politics was my true love.  I used up four days of annual leave and pootled on up to Tamworth.  Angela Wilkins was the running the committee room that I was allocated to and Fiona Gordon was running the show.  I delivered leaflets, knocked on doors and glared at the odd Tory I saw on the streets.  And on my final day there I went to a local pub on my own to support Liverpool against Aston Villa in the FA cup semi.  I hadn’t realised until I walked in it was Villa country!

Every by-election that I have been involved in has had a core team of staff and volunteers who become a little community.  They share a space and share an experience that bonds them.  The early days are the best when like pioneers you arrive and need to learn about the alien environment that you have moved into.  You print the maps and find a campaign HQ.  Wards are allocated and the leafleting and door knocking begins.  Maybe you get the odd frontbencher turning up and perhaps even a few local members get involved.  But it’s you against the Party HQ and the hours are long.  And then others start arriving and you pretend to be pleased but secretly it’s irritating that others are intruding.  Experts start arriving to help with press and writing copy.  The campaign HQ fills up with the great and the good whilst the real work is still going on from the campaign centres dotted across the constituency.

Then there are the by-election characters, every by-election has them.  There are the geeky students who turn up on day three and stay right until the end.  They somehow always find somewhere to stay and people always buy them drinks.  They are incredibly enthusiastic and will do whatever is asked.  There is the local member (or whole groups of members) who hates the whole by-election team as outsiders who ‘don’t what it’s like around here’.  They have never needed all of this fancy nonsense before and they certainly don’t need it now!  They probably wanted to be the candidate but were blocked by the NEC.  Then there is the local member who simply can’t do enough for the campaign.  They open up their house and put people up; they share local intelligence and translate the local political spats.

There is always at least one romance, and generally more, the campaign pub and everyone’s favourite Indian restaurant.   The campaign stories develop as they are retold; the dog that nearly bashed down the door when leafleting, the Tory who was persuaded to switch and the government minister that was lost in the labyrinthine estate.


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Labour history uncut: By-elections beckon and the fixers get fixing for the LRC

29/11/2012, 07:37:20 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

It was early 1902 and times were tough for the Labour representation committee. They had a worryingly low bank balance, only 2 MPs and not enough members to deliver leaflets.

The parliamentary Labour party couldn’t even descend into proper factionalism as Keir Hardie and Richard Bell got on quite well.  This wasn’t what the left was about at all.

The Taff Vale ruling by the Lords had thrown the LRC a much needed lifeline, forcing more unions into the arms of the party, but support wasn’t growing quickly enough. Although more were affiliated by 1902 than 1901, numbers were still down on the founding conference in 1900.

Something needed to be done.

Fortunately, Ramsay Macdonald was on hand. He was a sharp operator and he had a cunning plan.

As party secretary, Macdonald had a key role in developing the party machine and fixing things about which the saintly Keir Hardie didn’t have to ask too many questions.

Secondary duties included taking minutes, making the tea and, eventually removing his glasses, shaking his hair out and waiting for Keir Hardie to say “why Mr Macdonald, you’re beautiful.”

Movember was a way of life for Ramsay Macdonald


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Whips Notebook: Postcard from Bradford West

23/03/2012, 03:15:10 PM

by Jon Ashworth

I love by elections and always have done so since I first campaigned as a scruffy teenager with a hair-do like Noel Gallagher in Littleborough and Saddleworth.

Those were heady summer days indeed as us young insurgents fought like tigers for every Labour vote. The drill was soon to become familiar in by election after by election. We slept on floors at night and knocked on doors all day. A merry band of brothers and sisters from which enduring friendships formed and last to this day – Tom Watson, Michael Dugher, Gloria De Piero to name just a few of the future stars I would first meet on the by election campaign trail in towns like Littleborough.

Sadly in Littleborough and Saddleworth it wasn’t enough with the Lib Dems managing to just nick it. But the Tories were obliterated and we knew that our unsuccessful candidate Phil Woolas would easily take the redrawn seat whenever the general election came. 15 years later I would be trudging through many of the same streets in thick snow to help Debbie Abrahams secure victory in the successor Oldham East and Saddleworth seat.

Not downhearted with defeat, in fact the very opposite, we moved on to Wirral South. A ‘safe’ Tory seat that easily tumbled to us with local businessman Ben Chapman, whose election posters proudly boasted “Ben Chapman means business”, becoming Wirral South’s first Labour MP. Ben retired at the 2010 election but Wirral South is still held by us today by the ever impressive Alison McGovern.

Looking back it feels like all I did was work on by elections in those early years of the Labour government.


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Where does idealism stop and pragmatism begin?

16/01/2012, 07:30:58 AM

by Kevin Meagher

For all the talk about the font size and just how luminescent our mea culpa on the deficit should be, there is a bigger question stalking the Labour party: where does political idealism end and pragmatism begin? How is the balance to be struck between what Labour wants to do and what it has to do?

On this wheel the party always breaks. It’s been the same since Ramsay McDonald’s great betrayal of 1931, when he led breakaway Labour MPs into the national government to enforce Sir George May’s disastrous austerity package during the depression.

The same drama played itself out under Clement Attlee, when rearmament costs saw charges imposed for false teeth and spectacles, besmirching Aneurin Bevan’s idealistic vision of a free NHS. He promptly resigned from the cabinet, beginning a decade-long cold war with his arch-pragmatist rival, Hugh Gaitskell.

Most damagingly, the IMF-inspired austerity package, that James Callaghan’s government was forced to swallow during the financial crisis of the mid-seventies, saw Labour’s entire programme junked; precipitating the internal war that would rip the party to pieces during the early 1980s. (more…)

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