Saturday, 25 July 2009

By-election Mood Music: A Cha Cha Cha or a Quickstep?

So, another by-election loss for the government on a double digit swing, the opposition calling for a general election and the Liberals stating that they are on the increase.

So what? We have heard this story time and time again after Ribble Valley (24.5% swing Con to Lib Dem), after Newbury (28.5% swing Con to Lib Dem) and even after Dudley West (29% swing from Con to Lab), but these recent by-elections aren't following the same tune as previous ones.To show what I mean, let's look at the biggest by-election swings of recent times and look at the change in the votes between the party that won the seat last time and the challenging party.

Take for instance, the daddy of challenging party by-elections, Christchurch in 1993. There the Conservative vote dropped 32.1%, versus the Liberal Democrat vote (as the challengers) which went up 38.6% (in other words 120%, i.e they scooped up every single Con vote and picked up 20% of the Labour drop as well). Dudley West (1994), Con vote fell 30.1%, Lab vote rose 28.1 indicating that Labour had managed to scoop 94% of all the Conservative drop). Other examples include:

Newbury (1993): Con -29.0% Lib Dem +27.8% = 96% scoop
Walsall North (1976): Lab -27.9% Con +17.3% = 62% scoop
Ashfield (1977): Lab -20.9% Con +20.8% = 99% scoop

All of which as we know led to huge changes in governments at the next election. Now compare that to recent Con gain by-elections

Crewe and Nantwich (2008): Lab -18.3% Con +16.9% = 92% scoop
Norwich North (2009): Lab -26.7% Con +6.3% = 24% scoop

In other words, it's pretty clear that as the only difference between Crewe and Norwich is expenses, it is clear that Labour are dancing the cha cha cha out of government, but Cameron's quickstep has come to almost a shuddering halt and is now a slowstep and unless he can stop Lab voters switching to UKIP, Green and BNP his desire to win the next election might result in the first hung parliament for nearly 35 years.

Harry Hayfield


stjohn said...

But do the Tories need to gain every vote that Labour lose? It's the gap that counts.

OK a Labour vote going to the Greens is worth half the value of a Labour vote going Tory. But it still helps the Tories.

Labour/Brown brand seems toxic at present. If this collapse in the Labour vote is maintained at the next General Election, if voters use their votes more cannily in the GE by voting for the party most likely to eject Labour in a particular constituency, and if Smithson the Younger's electoral model is even half correct, then I think a Tory landslide is on the cards.

I rate a Tory 100+ majority at Evens currently.

Dave B said...

The Conservative Party is the tool the British people have for getting rid of a Labour gov't. I think, come the general election, they'll use it.

Marcia said...

The drop in the Labour share of the vote is very large. The expenses saga also I think depressed the Tory vote a bit with those Tories still angry with them deciding to vote UKIP or Green as a one off protest. This will have been more than matched by the amount of votes transferring directly from Labour. For the LibDems, third parties can be squeezed or come to a standstill despite the pouring of resources into a seat. It happened to the SNP in Dunfermline West, at least the LD share of the vote help up fairly well.

This could be a case of the Tories waltzing to a victory. It will depend on the marginals. Will the swing be larger in the marginals than safe seats like 1997 or will the swing be lower than the marginals like Oct 1974. I think, if based on this by-election it will be at the higher end.

Morus said...