Sunday, July 22, 2007

By-election Disappointment

The recent by-elections in Sedgefield and Ealing Southall were an immense disappointment. The Party was hoping to make significant progress in the London constituency, and maybe even considering the possibility that we might win. Why, then, were the Liberal Democrats able to push us into third place? Their leader appears weak and at times, inept; the Lib Dems do not appear to be the political force that they were under the leadership of Charles Kennedy.
I had envisaged today, Friday 20th July, being a day of Lib Dem implosion; of plotting and scheming how to get rid of Ming. Instead, it has become another day of sober reflection, time given to consider why the Conservatives constantly do so badly in by-elections. After the death of Eric Forth, few thought it possible that the Liberal Democrats could run us so close in Bromley and Chislehurst. We nearly lost the seat in the end. It is true that constituencies which have suffered a peculiar result mid-term will return to safe Tory hands at the next election, but it remains worrying that we appear not to be able to perform at these key electoral contests. Had the Conservatives even pushed Labour close in Ealing, it would have been a wake-up call for Brown, who, at the moment, appears almost unassailable in his honeymoon period.
The fact that the Conservative vote increased by less than one per cent in both constituencies is alarming, because after eighteen months of David Cameron (who has been ahead in the polls for most of that time), the Party as a whole should expect an improved performance even in safe Labour seats. We do not need to do any better in our own safe seats! We are racking up huge majorities in very safe county seats, whilst our vote in the suburbs is still unacceptably low. If this is the result in London, it cannot bode well for the northern marginals, where the next election’s battleground will be fought. The Tories must win Blackpool South, South Ribble, Chorley, Bolton North West, Bolton North East, Bury North, Bradford West, Leeds North West and even Wakefield to form the next government. We must poll higher here to win.
In 2001 and 2005, the Conservative vote at the general elections hardly improved at all, indeed, in 2005, it was the Liberal Democrats which caused Labour to lose as many seats as they did. Our vote increased only marginally. In order to win in 2009/10 (or maybe earlier) there has to be an EIGHT PER CENT SWING TO US – not the Liberal Democrats. It is possible to win by polling less than 40% at a general election, but very unlikely, as Labour would have to do very badly – probably even worse than they did in 1983. The Liberal Democrats would also have to lose about half their seats. The Tories have to be in 43-44% territory to be confident of winning, and even then, if Labour poll more than 35% it is by no means guaranteed. The latest Populus poll giving Labour a 7% lead (40-33) is grave news and shouldn’t simply be taken as an anomalous result. YouGov, Mori and ICM have all shown that Brown has given Labour the boost they so badly needed, and he is beginning to succeed in distancing himself from Blair – casino policy, the differences with the US, and more relaxed language on terrorism all prove this.
We have to start convincing the electorate that we mean what we say. Hopefully, once our policy groups have reported in the autumn, we can begin to make progress. If Brown is ahead in a year’s time; possibly even six months’; we will not win, and I can guarantee that.