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The by-election results and what they tell us

CopelandStokeVoteShareChangeIn a previous article I looked at the polls during Corbyn’s period as leader, noting the deterioration in the period post the referendum/coup compared to that preceding it. I also noted that actual election results up to and including May 2016 were not bad, and for the parliamentary by-elections and mayoral elections were very good.

Let us now have a look at the actual results since the referendum/coup in late June. There have been only by-elections during this period, four parliamentary with two pending, and many council by-elections.

There is no point in considering the Batley and Spen by-election, as none of the other major parties contested it out of respect for the murdered Jo Cox, so it cannot tell us anything, except rather sadly demonstrating that despite the circumstances of the by-election some 2,000 voters were prepared to vote for an unsavoury bunch of candidates from the far right.

However the other by-election fought on that day, October 20th, at Witney, Cameron’s seat, was significant in that it saw a substantial swing from the Tories, who lost a quarter of their vote, to the Lib-Dems, who trebled their’s. The Labour vote was marginally down, but the UKIP vote collapsed, in part a reflection of their leadership crisis, but also perhaps a move from them back to May’s new Brexit party. This was a Remain seat, but fairly marginally so, at an estimated 54%.

It is clear that this vote represented a switch, or at least a one off protest vote ( this distinction is not unimportant ) by Tory Remainers to the Lib-Dems along with a few Labour and Green Remainers, but despite their losses to the Lib-Dems the Tories would appear to have avoided what might have been an even worse showing by some movement back to them from UKIP.

But the Lib-Dems had a much greater treat in store six weeks later on December 1st, when they won the Richmond Park by-election.This was ostensibly about the decision to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow, which the sitting Tory, Zac Goldsmith, had previously committed himself to oppose by standing down and fighting as an independent. However, as none of the other candidates had alternative views, and neither the Tories, Greens or UKIP stood, the election effectively became a n EU Remain/ Leave contest, with a sub plot of revenge against Goldsmith for what was widely perceived as a racist campaign by him against Sadiq Khan in the election for the London Mayor. Unlike Witney, there was a strong possibility of defeating Goldsmith, in what was a very strongly Remain constituency, (72%), but probably only by Labour voters voting tactically for the Lib-Dem candidate. This is what happened, with the Labour vote turning out to be smaller than the number of Labour members in the constituency! (This should come as no surprise. There is a long history there of tactical voting by Labour for the Lib-Dem to keep the Tory out.)

A week later the Sleaford and Hykeham by-election, unlike the other two a predominantly Leave seat, (60%), accounting for the Tories retaining virtually all their vote, and UKIP only slightly down (Nuttall had just been elected as the new leader), but with a heavy 40% loss of the Labour share of the vote to a Lib-Dem share that almost doubled.

It is also worth looking at the council by-elections that have taken place. These are less reliable as an indication of main party support, as local factors and independents play a larger role, but the trends are clear. The Tories, despite the May surge, are still losing slightly, Labour and UKIP are marginally ahead, but the Lib-Dems have increased their vote share by a substantial margin of about 5%, consistent with the parliamentary by-elections and the polls. Labour has done best in London, the West Midlands and the North West.

So what conclusions can we draw from all this? Basically, that there is a substantial Tory and to a lesser extent Labour Remain vote that is prepared to vote tactically for the Lib-Dems over this issue in a by-election, with some of that vote permanently transferring to them. This would explain why the Lib-Dems have not risen hugely in the polls, as the by-elections would indicate, but they have certainly grown in support, from about 7% to 9%,or about a third. However, this is from a very low base, and further growth is dependent on the complex politics of Brexit which are difficult to foresee, to say the least. They obviously hope to put themselves at the head of a Remain campaign, which Labour, because of the position it has taken, correctly in my view, cannot do. However, these are early days. If the predicted dire economic consequences of Brexit start to become apparent then those who deserted Labour for UKIP or the Tories will probably return from whence they came rather than move to the Lib-Dems.

But yes, for the reasons given all the results for Labour were dire, much more so than even the poor position in the polls would indicate, particularly at Sleaford, because of its strong Leave vote.

Note on the Copeland and Stoke by-elections 

While the results in both these seats, particularly Copeland, will no doubt be used by Corbyn’s enemies as a further reason as to why he should go, the results are in line with the previous by-elections commented on above, and are more to do with Brexit than Corbyn, although the shift in the vote in Copeland was far greater than in Stoke, enabling the Tories to win there but for Labour to hang on in Stoke.

In Copeland there was a clear shift by Labour and Green Remainers to the Lib-Dems, resulting in a doubling of their share of the vote, while the Tories persuaded most of the previous UKIP vote to transfer to them, thus ensuring victory.

In Stoke there was a similar movement by Labour and Green Remainers to the Lib-Dems, who more than doubled their share of the vote, but the Tory and UKIP share of the vote remained relatively unchanged, partly because the Tories fought for their vote, with May visiting in the run up to polling day. This probably reflected the Tories’ greater fear of a UKIP victory than a Labour one, but had it not been for the Hillsborough revelations Nuttall might have won. Let us hope that his failure to do so helps in the decline of UKIP, although, in the short run at least, it is the Tories who are likely to be the beneficiaries.


  1. Gerald Allen says:

    I maybe accused of clutching at straws here but in the commentaries I have seen on here, Labour List(what a dreadful blog that has become with all the trolls flooding on to it, maybe that is the reason to try and kill it) Comment Is Free, no one has mentioned that the campaign by the media and the Tories in Copeland concentrated on nothing but Sellafield and nuclear power, everyday, unless I saw something different you had nuclear power rammed down our throats because of Corbyns perceived weakness on nuclear power. Just about every one male who commented mentioned Sellafield and the fact that therw were hardly any other alternative employment in the area, just about every female who commented on tv mentioned the closing of maternity unit closures and being transferred to Carlisle. Sadly, combined with the attacks on Corbyns anti-nuclear policy on defence and Sellafield this swung the votes to the Tories.
    For me personally there seemed to be a feeling up to the last day or so that maybe the Labour candidate could have held the seat(the comments by the Tories in the early hours of the count, didn’t seem too optimistic, but by 2-30 am I’d gone to bed after heaving a big sigh of relief at the beautiful humiliation of Nuttall in Stoke Central).Another point at/for which I maybe shouted down on, is that while there was commentary about Copeland being a marginal seat it used to be safe Labour seat(represented by that well known ultra left revolutionary, John Cunningham) there was very little mention of the fact that Keswick, a strong Tory area had been added on to the constituency after boundary reorganisation at the 2010 general election, which imho that latterday Ramsay McDonald , Jamie Reed would have struggled to retain the seat, more than likely as good a reason as any to take the job at Sellafield plus the bonus of helping in the campaign to get shut of Corbyn, of which he has been one of the most prominent members which his latest comments on Corbyn and the by-election are testimony to.
    Yes the election in Copeland was very disappointing but when you consider the campaign waged not entirely unexpected. There is a lot of hard work to be done to turn the tide in Labours favour and to deal with the saboteurs in the PLP and the broader Labour movement. It’s my honest opinion that Brexit is going to blow up in May’s face(along with 100000s of others) and I think even Tom Watson, one of the chief saboteurs in the PLP has realised this and a united Labour Party/movement are the only thing that can stop the brexiteers wreaking havoc with our communities, not the ultra lefts weaving their magic potions.

    1. Bazza says:

      The rich and powerful may be paying professional trolls and Labour needs to investigate what the Tories are up to; they are appealing to prejudices whilst we should match them on social media but appeal to people’s better nature, people mainly want to be kind.
      See Obsérver ‘Cognitive Warfare’ piece (26/2/17).

    2. David Pavett says:

      @Gerald Allen. You say “there was very little mention of the fact that Keswick, a strong Tory area had been added on to the constituency after boundary reorganisation at the 2010 general election, which imho that latterday Ramsay McDonald , Jamie Reed would have struggled to retain the seat”. How so? Jamie Read won the seat in 2005 and DID retain it in 2010 and again in 2015. That his share of the vote declined both before and after the incorporation of Keswick is another matter.

      1. Gerald Allen says:

        David; My point was that the Copeland by-election campaign was always going to be a very hard one(not that there are any easy ones, particularly since Corbyn was elected leader and the Blairite saboteurs with their cheerleader Lord Yacht of Tax Haven refused to accept the result and embarked on their treacherous assault on Corbyn and anyone who is prepared to serve in his Shadow Cabinet or support him in the rest of the PLP and the party or movement)and the media and the Tories were always going to wage a relentless campaign once they smelt blood, particularly over Corbyn’s perceived half-hearted support for nuclear power. IMHO it is only the wholehearted support of the mass membership that prevented a bigger defeat.
        My point about Copeland being turned into a marginal seat is that even when you take into account the fact that the Labour vote has been in decline since the 1945 election apart from 1966, 1974, 1997 Copeland and whatever its predecessor was called(Whitehaven or Workington I believe) John Cunningham had a majority that was considered safe by any means, I believe in the region of the 10000-15000 at a minimum. If as I believe that the boundary commissions recommendations came into effect after the 2010 general election then the addition of the Tory areas of Kendall turned it into a marginal from 2015, which I believe was a factor in Jamie Reed seeking a lucrative exit from Copeland and helping to undermine/replace Corbyn as leader of which he has been a leading campaigner since the day after Jeremy’s election.
        So therefore, taking the full blooded campaign of the Tory’s and their media cohorts daily bombardment of the electorates fear of jobs in the nuclear industry, the constituencies major(only decent sized)employer, imho the tories could have had a bigger majority.

    3. john P Reid says:

      didn’t the trots call Kinnock ramsey Mc Kinnock after he couldn’t back the illegal miners strike

      1. James Martin says:

        Most of us called him much worse than that after what the scumbag did (or didn’t do) to support mining communities who were being beaten and starved before our very eyes. He can rot in hell as far as I’m concerned and will never be forgiven for his betrayal.

        1. John P Reid says:

          starved before our eyes, are you saying they couldn’t have Gone back to work to get a wage if they’d wanted, beaten well if they inflicted violence they were going to get it back, and it wasn’t a community the Derbyshire miners voted not to to strike, if I was Jamie Reed and was compared to Kinnock then mid be flattered
          Can’t see how Kinnock can have betrayed anyone when he couldn’t legally support an illegal strike,if you . Think he’s going to hell for that,then maybe you ought to ask why Scargill single handedly turned the publics sympathy away from the miners of ten years earlier

          1. James Martin says:

            Well good to know you support anti-trade union laws John. Shame you weren’t also around at the time of the Suffragettes isn’t it, you could have told them that it served them right when they were having the rubber tubes forced down their throats, after all the did break the law didn’t they? You really are a reactionary old Tory aren’t you John?

          2. John P Reid says:

            No paid up Labour Party member for 30 years ,the suffragettes didn’t have the vote, so compassion with Scargill not a looting members then demanding the ones who voted not to go onetime, wrre blocked from going to wor is silly
            I don’t know if the current trade Union laws are anti trade union or the fact that vexatious trade union laws were passed matter rhe 1984 strike was
            Pat, are you saying very one in the Labour Party from 1989-2015 when labour accepted the Tory Union laws was a Tory for not r erasing them, I know the 1996 act meant the police were t even allowed to discuss changing the Fredericton to be a union or strike as if they did they’d be sacked so that’s anti union, but as people are still allowed to being unions then, I can’t see how, stopping flying pickets, or secret ballots or union members poring of of funding the Labour Party , or having votes to strike, means that things are anti unions, although I accept the 1996 on balance of probabilities rather Han beyond reasonable doubt for employers to say employees acted wrong, for the staff to be sacked seems ,anti workers, but then that’s not th unions job, it’s the workers who suffer from that, and not so much of the old

        2. Sukey says:

          I will definitely provide a date ASAP. There have been several discussions where readers have explained their opinions and I explain my reasoning for the end of book#4. Some are here on my website in the “My Bos&ok#8221; section ) and others are on my Facebook Page ) Feel free to chime in if you like

  2. Tim Pendry says:

    So how do comments like that keep the substantial numbers of usually Labour-voting Brexit voters in the Labour camp … if we want a centre-left Party defined by its being a European Socialist Party in waiting, a substantial chunk of the working class vote will never be able to trust it or vote for it, driving the ‘Left’ into the Blairite centre ground of middle class Remainers.

    As for it all blowing up in May’s face, that is just wishful thinking … no prediction of apocalypse has come true since June. The advocates of disaster are constantly pushing forward their date for Judgement Day like those nuts who used to sit on hilltops waiting for the end of the world.

    1. Bazza says:

      By truly getting our country back and perhaps apart from a house and a bit of a garden what is ours – land, banks, mail, rail, water, public utilities etc etc?
      It’s called left wing democratic socialism and working people in every country should fight for the same things.
      May was ‘MS INVISIBLE” in the EC Referendum Campaign (sat on the fence though in theory for Remain and let Boris and Michael et al fight like rats in a sack over it) but the BORN AGAIN BREXITEER now must deliver.
      May is pretending the Tories are for working people and we need to make MAY’S MASQUE OF PANDORA SLIP but with Brexit May can’t wait like the bourgeois politician she is/they are to see which way the wind blows.
      This is her/the Tories Achillees Heal.
      Labour needs to lead on the Best Brexit for working people whilst working with the left in the EC so they too kick out Neo-Liberalism!

  3. Tony says:

    People make far too much of the fact that Copeland, and its predecessor of Whitehaven, have been Labour for 80 years. They never were massively safe seats. Corbyn is blamed for the loss of the by-election but does Jamie Reed not bear some responsibility for causing the by-election in the first place?

    A similar thing happened after the Euro-referendum. The result was all Corbyn’s fault but the roles of Kate Hoey and, even more so, Gisela Stuart were both ignored.

    I went to the Stoke central by-election and spoke to about thirty people. Interestingly enough, not a single one mentioned Corbyn at all. Had they done so, I would have done my best to defend him.

    The most recent edition of the Observer was full of anti-Corbyn propaganda with a big list of the by-elections of this Parliament. But missing from that list were the ones where Labour did well such as Oldham West etc.

    1. John P Reid says:

      does Ken livingstine take the blame or tony Benn take blame whn seats they had fell to the libDems when they stood down from parliament,

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