But will Blaenau and Bromley be dismissed as just by-elections?
By the tests set in my article just as the polls were closing the overnight by-elections brought terrible news for both Brown/Blair’s Labour and David Cameron’s Tories. They also showed that the Lib Dems are able to pack a huge punch in a Westminster by-election whichever party is defending.
The straight politics make Labour’s results marginally, but only marginally, worse than the Tory performance in Bromley.
For Brown-Blair’s party threw everything into winning back what was its biggest stronghold in Wales and had the benefit of two by-elections at the same time which meant it could spend massively. It will be interesting to see the expenses figure but the party campaign budget could have gone up to Â£200,000.
Failing to win back Peter Laws’s Welsh Assembly seat has big implications for who has control in Cardiff.
There’s no excuse for the Tory performance in Bromley. The only consolation on the evening is that they held on against a huge Lib Dem challenge but to see the majority reduced to a few hundred should light up panic signs throughout the party.
Everything about the Tory campaign was pathetic. All the polls showed that their biggest asset is David Cameron yet the local Tory party made only passing reference to their leader in the campaign literature. This followed the selection mess-up and you had a recipe for disaster which is indeed what happened.
In the Guardian a couple of days ago Ed Vaizey, one of Cameron’s inner circle, complained about Lib Dem tactics. What did he expect – Mary Poppins?
Campaigns like this are a dirty, bruising, business. The Lib Dem strategy of finding a defect in their opponent and then repeat it time and time and time again is well known. That is how you achieve success. To deal with campaigns like this you cannot leave the fight in the hands of a local party. Maybe one of the consequences of Bromley will be a change in Tory rules?
So what about the Lib Dems? A great performance but the party has an enormous amount to live up to when it comes to by-elections and the danger is that Bromley will be dismissed by the Tory-Labour big party duopoly as just Ming’s party doing what they are expected to do.
And the betting? – well, as I suggested, betting against Labour in Blaenau proved profitable and it’s clear why Tories did not rush to take the apparently free money on Bromley.
And the pollsters? Less than two weeks ago NOP had Labour as clear winners for the Westminster seat at Blaenau. Polls have not got a good record at by-elections and this reinforced it. The poll also carried on that wonderful UK polling tradition of over-estimating Labour.
New YouGov poll. I’ve just noticed that there’s a new survey in the Telegraph which I’ll cover later in the day.