Archive for the 'Sean Fear’s Friday slots' Category


Sean Fear’s Saturday slant

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Why Weren’t Labour Routed?

In common with, I suspect, most readers of this website, I expected Labour to suffer a defeat every bit as bad as 1983, if not worse, on May 6th. This was based partly on Labour’s dire poll ratings, but also on the utter despair that was emanating from the Party.

Anonymous Cabinet Ministers were briefing newspapers that they were in trouble in seats like Harrow West, Stretford and Urmston, Streatham, and Wrexham, all of which they held, in the end. Perhaps this was all an elaborate campaign of disinformation, but I think it’s more likely that Labour’s insiders were telling the truth as they saw it, particularly as they would have had a good idea of how the postal votes were going, days before polling day.

In the event, the Party won 258 seats, a loss of 98 compared to 2005, but a good deal better than might have been the case.

It is probable that the pollsters were correct in showing how unpopular Labour were, but enough voters swung back to the Party, in the end, to prevent a rout. Any attempt to explain why must be tentative, at this stage, but I shall attempt to give my reasons. Firstly, the economy. Even at their highest point, the Conservatives never opened up a truly commanding lead on economic issues, over Labour. Indeed, up until the start of the Credit Crunch, the Party’s leaders seem to have accepted that Brown really had abolished Boom and Bust. This helped Labour, once the economy began to show tentative signs of recovery, from the start of 2010. Indeed, during the course of the election campaign, Labour relentlessly narrowed the gap with the Conservatives, on economic competence, until the parties were almost level-pegging. Yougov regularly asked which of Conservatives and Labour would handle the economy best, and who would people trust to raise their standard of living, Cameron/Osborne, or Brown/Darling. On the first measure, the Conservative lead fell from 36:30 on 5th April to 37:36 on 3rd May; on the second, from 30:24, on 25th March, just after the Budget, to 32:31 by 30th April. While this fell well short of the commanding lead on the same questions that Labour had held in 2005, I don’t doubt that, in the end, a sizeable minority of swing voters decided to stick with Labour, as the devil they knew.

get link Secondly, the radical Left stayed loyal to Labour; indeed, people who had voted for radical Left parties in 2005, switched back to Labour. The Greens fielded 137 more candidates than in 2005, yet their overall vote only increased by 1,000. In almost every seat that the Party contested in both 2005, and 2009, the Party’s vote fell sharply, usually to the advantage of Labour. In London Boroughs where the Greens are strong, such as Islington, Haringey, and Camden, the party was typically only retaining 20-25% of the vote, at Parliamentary level, that it got in local elections that were held on the same day. Respect lost 35,000 votes compared to 2005; the Scottish Socialists and Socialist Labour Party lost 58,000 between them, and failed to retain a single deposit. Iraq no longer caused such voters to turn against Labour, while real fear at the prospect of a Conservative government made them vote for Labour. In all likelihood, this decision was only made in the last days of the campaign.

By contrast, support for the radical Right surged. UKIP, English Democrats, and the BNP, put on 700,000 votes between them, compared to 2005. In all likelihood, this helped Labour by hitting the Conservatives. Such voters tend to be more anti-Labour than they are anti-Conservative, and in the absence of their preferred choice, would probably vote for the Party best placed to defeat Labour, usually the Conservatives. It’s not entirely clear why such voters should have opted differently to their counterparts on the Left. My guess is that they thought a huge Labour defeat was assured, and so, didn’t have to consider tactical voting.

Tramadol Buy Online Usa Thirdly, Conservatives did not vote tactically for Liberal Democrats. I had expected the Conservative vote to fall away rapidly in seats where they were in distant third place, like Rochdale, Islington South, Chesterfield, Durham, Oldham East, and Oxford East, to the advantage of the Liberal Democrats. On the contrary, it rose, often sharply, and cost the Liberal Democrats several seats that they could have expected to win or retain from Labour. I do not know why this occurred, but perhaps, the tabloids’ attacks on Nick Clegg resonated particularly strongly with core Conservatives in such seats.

watch Finally, there was Scotland. Polls had indicated that Labour would perform very well there, but I doubt if anyone expected Labour to push up their vote by 3.5% and to retain every one of their seats. I would have expected Labour to lose perhaps half a dozen seats to the other parties, yet the Media’s relentless attacks on Brown only seemed to strengthen the Scots’ admiration for him.

Sean Fear


Sean Fear on the power of incumbency

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Did this prevent a Tory majority?

It has long been the case that in American elections, incumbency has been an important factor. Until fairly recently, that was not considered to be the case in British elections. While it was acknowledged that Liberal Democrats could build up sizeable personal followings, the general view was that it was a very minor factor in the far more numerous Conservative/Labour contests.

Order Tramadol Australia This view must now be challenged, judging by the results from May 6th. Overall, in seats where Labour had a majority of 14% or less, in 2005 (the seats that the Conservatives had to win to achieve a majority) the swing from Labour to Conservative was 6%, 1% higher than the national average.

However, in seats which were being defended by Labour incumbents, the swing was reduced to 5.3%, whereas in seats being contested by new candidates, the swing was 7.3%.

This may not appear to be a huge difference, but it matters enormously in marginal seats. To put it into context, had Labour kept the swing down to 5.3% in all of these marginals, they would have lost net 9 seats fewer to the Conservatives, almost certainly sufficient to have made a coalition with the Liberal Democrats a distinct possibility. Had the swing been 7.3% across the board, then the Conservatives would have won an outright majority.

Striking differences can be seen in the same towns, between incumbents and non-incumbents. For example, in Milton Keynes North, where the incumbent was a Conservative, the swing to the Tories was 9.2%; in click Milton Keynes South, where the incumbent was Labour, the swing was 6.2%. In Tramadol Mastercard Fedex Swindon North, where a new Labour candidate stood, the swing was 10%. In Swindon South, where the MP ran again, the swing was 5.5%. Most notably of all, perhaps, in Luton South, the swing to the Conservatives was 4.6%, while Luton North, where the sitting MP had distinguished himself during the expenses scandal, showed a rare swing to Labour of 0.5%.

Equally clearly, Conservative MPs who were elected for the first time in 2005, enjoyed a notable boost. On average, they enjoyed a swing of 7.5% in their favour, well above average. Were the pattern to be repeated with Conservatives elected for the first time on May 6th, Labour would need a big swing in their favour before they could expect to regain a substantial number of seats from the Conservatives. As has been the case for some time, there was a substantial difference in the outcome where Liberal Democrat incumbents were defending seats, and where they stepped down.

Overall, Liberal Democrat incumbents suffered a swing against them of 0.6% to their nearest challenger, on average. New candidates suffered a swing against them of 5.1%.

Admittedly, this average conceals some huge variations in individual seats. Tim Farron, in Westmoreland & Lonsdale, enjoyed a swing of 12% in his favour; Lembit Opik in Montgomeryshire, suffered a swing against him of 13%.

Clearly, there is also a reverse incumbency effect. Many MP’s who had been heavily criticised, such as Lembit Opik, Jacqui Smith, Tony McNulty, Ann Keen, and David Heathcote-Amory, performed significantly worse than their parties did in their region. Equally, MP’s such as Kelvin Hopkins, Nick Palmer, Vernon Coker, Sara Teather, Grant Shapps, and Justine Greening, who were seen as effective, strongly outperformed their parties.

This must surely be a healthy development. MP’s who work well for their constituents ought to get an electoral reward. MP’s who don’t, should not expect to be automatically re-elected.

Sean Fear


A special Sean Fear Slot…..

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

What do local by elections tell us?

Thursday’s local by-election results were among the worst that I can remember for the Conservatives. The Party lost five out of seven seats it was defending, and saw its vote share fall sharply almost everywhere. By contrast, Labour and the Liberal Democrats performed extremely well, making a net gain of four and two, respectively. Naturally, both parties’ activists have been heartened by this, and Conservatives, judging by the blogs, have been perplexed.

Currently, opinion polls have been giving the Conservatives leads that range from 8% to 17%. Do these local results, being actual, as opposed to notional, votes, prove that the polls are wrong? Almost certainly not.

To begin with, one has to look at the parties’ starting points. The Conservatives hold as many local council seats as Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined. The local elections of 2006 to 2009 gave the Conservatives huge leads, in terms of vote share, and huge gains in terms of seats. They were not just winning the marginal seats, but chipping away at their opponents’ bedrock. It is hard to see what else was left for the Conservatives to gain, unless they were to stage an unlikely comeback in authorities like Sheffield and Liverpool. In each of those years, the Conservatives had leads, in terms of projected vote share, of 14% to 20%; the Conservatives could still enjoy a lead in double figures, and be losing large numbers of local council seats.

As a result, the Conservatives are defending many more seats than either of their main opponents, in local by-elections. Indeed, since the last round of local elections, on 4th June, the Conservatives have had to defend 42 seats, compared to 11 for Labour, 16 for the Liberal Democrats, and 16 for Independents, and smaller parties. As a result, they have a good deal more that they can potentially lose than either of their principal opponents.

Order Tramadol Overnight Cod Nevertheless, the Conservatives have lost heavily over this period. They have suffered a net loss of 15 seats, while Labour has made a net gain of seven, and the Liberal Democrats, a net gain of six. And, this is at a time when opinion polls have shown a large Conservative lead. So does this matter?

The answer is no. I’m stating the obvious, but local by-elections, over the course of several months, will give a good indication of the parties’ standing in local elections, but will give no indication of the parties’ standing in the coming general election.

By way of comparison, from May 1996, up till the general election, the Conservatives made a net gain of 24 seats in local by-elections. Between May 2000 and the 2001 general election, they also did well, with a net gain of 26 seats, according to Keith Edkins’ archive ( But, in both general elections, they were heavily defeated. And this should cause no surprise.

Local elections (and particularly, local by-elections) are heavily influenced by local issues, as well as the intervention, or withdrawal of minor parties and independents from contests. General elections are decided on national issues, and while support for the minor parties is growing, it remains marginal in most constituencies. When it comes to predicting the winner of a general election, look to the national opinion polls, not local by-elections.

click here Do these local by-elections tell us anything?

I think they indicate that were there to be a stand-alone round of local elections, next year, the Conservatives would lose a significant number of seats, even if they had a fair-sized lead, in terms of vote share. However, the local elections will probably be held on the same day as the general election, which should enable the Conservatives to do better than one might expect in the local contests. Alternatively, if Gordon Brown goes for a March election, and (as expected) loses, the Conservatives may well make gains in local elections held a few weeks later, as Labour voters are likely to be demoralised.

However, the Conservatives are past their peak, in terms of local council contests. Assuming that they win the next general election, they will almost certainly suffer big seat losses in 2011, 2012, and 2013, even if their vote share is reasonable for an incumbent government.

click Sean Fear used to write a regular feature for the site on Friday evenings. Now he makes the occasional guest contribution. Long-time PBers might recall that in the 2004/2005 period Sean was just about the only Tory who regularly posted.


A special Sean Fear Friday Slot

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Sean looks ahead to London’s locals next May

The next London Borough Elections are due in May 2010, probably on the same day as the General Election. In 2006, the Conservatives led strongly, winning fifteen boroughs outright, compared to eight for Labour, and four for the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives’ lead, in terms of vote share, was less impressive, winning 35%, compared to 28% for Labour, and 21% for the Liberal Democrats.

If, as seems likely, the Conservatives win a large majority in the General Election, then they will probably have a bigger percentage lead across London than in 2006. However, many people do not vote the same way in local and general elections. I expect the vote for the Liberal Democrats, and the minor parties, to be squeezed slightly, if both elections are held on the same day; however, I expect them to poll more strongly in local elections, than at Parliamentary level. Overall, I assume that the Conservatives’ lead over Labour will be similar to 2006, although both parties will poll slightly better than they did in that year. Turning to each borough:- Barking & Dagenham. I expect Labour to lose this to No Overall Control. In Barking, the BNP ought to make gains, simply by fielding more candidates than they did in 2006. In Dagenham, I expect the Conservatives to win wards like Eastbrook, Chadwell Heath, and Whalebone, on the back of their general election campaign against John Cruddas. Labour’s losses in each part of the borough should cause them to lose overall control, but to remain the largest party. Buying Tramadol In Costa Rica Barnet should see the Conservatives increase their majority, while source Bexley and Purchase Tramadol Cod Shipping Bromley will be easy Conservative holds.

Tramadol Purchase Canada Brent should be gained by Labour, from No Overall Control. The coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives has not been popular with either party’s supporters, and has led two Conservative councillors to resign. This borough gave Labour one of its best results in the London Assembly elections. Labour should regain Queensbury, and perhaps win Barnhill, and regain some ground from the Liberal Democrats in the East of the borough. click here Camden will, in all likelihood, remain under No Overall Control, with the Liberal Democrats possibly emerging as the largest party.

enter site Croydon will be an easy Conservative hold, while enter site Ealing will provide one of the closest contests. It was won comfortably by the Conservatives in 2006, but the London Assembly results suggest that Labour will make gains. Labour actually led the Conservatives marginally, across the borough as a whole, but led in fewer wards than the Conservatives. Labour’s problem is that they pile up huge majorities in Southall, while the Conservatives pull off narrower wins in the rest of the borough. I would expect a narrow Conservative hold.

Buy Arrow Tramadol Enfield Unusually, the Conservatives lost ground, in 2006, mostly to campaigners against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital. That campaign has now faded away, and the London Assembly results suggests the Conservatives will retain the borough with an increased majority. Greenwich and Hackney will be easy Labour holds, while watch Havering should be held comfortably by the Conservatives. Labour actually finished fourth in this borough in the European elections, where once they had three MPs. They may well be left without a single councillor. Purchasing Tramadol Hammersmith & Fulham and Ultram Tramadol Online Hillingdon will be retained comfortably by the Conservatives. Hounslow will, in all likelihood, remain under No Overall Control. source link Harrow, which also saw a very good Labour performance in 2008, and whose Conservative administration has attracted criticism, will probably be lost to No Overall Control. Haringey will again provide an extremely close-fought battle between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The London Assembly elections, in which the Liberal Democrats performed poorly, and the Conservatives well, provide no guide to the borough results. Anti-Labour voters here often vote Liberal Democrat in borough elections, and Conservative at Mayoral and Assembly level. The Liberal Democrats’ problem is their inability to break into Tottenham. At this stage, I am not prepared to predict which party will win.

Order Tramadol Cod Next Day Delivery Islington was nearly lost by the Liberal Democrats in 2006. As with Haringey, the Assembly results (which show the Liberal Democrats badly trailing Labour) should be ignored. Nevertheless, this borough does offer Labour its best chance of a gain, in London, and I expect that they may just do it, even if the Liberal Democrats beat Emily Thornberry in Islington South. A further complicating factor is that the Green Party could well gain seats here.

Order Tramadol With Cod Kensington & Chelsea will be a predictable Conservative hold.;O=A Kingston, which the Conservatives nearly gained from the Liberal Democrats in 2006, will be very tight. On balance, I would expect the Conservatives to win it narrowly. Lambeth should be held comfortably by Labour. follow Lewisham (which has an elected Mayor) should likewise be retained quite comfortably by Labour. Merton will provide an extremely tight contest, with the Conservatives dominant in Wimbledon, and Labour in Mitcham & Morden. In a polarised contest, I would expect the Conservatives to win the one ward that is held by Residents, Merton Park, and take control. Buy Real Tramadol Online Newham will be an easy Labour hold. Redbridge has been lost by the Conservatives to No Overall Control, following the defection of two councillors. I expect them to regain it next year. Richmond will be an easy Liberal Democrat hold. go Southwark will likely remain under No Overall Control. Sutton will probably be a narrow Conservative win. Tower Hamlets will likely see Labour retain its overall majority, but the Conservatives should continue to advance in Docklands. Westminster and Wandsworth will remain predictably Conservative, and Waltham Forest will just as predictably, remain under No Overall Control.

Sean Fear is a Tory activist who for several years contributed his regular “Friday Slots”


What did the Euros say about the move to nationalism?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Sean Fear says don’t bet on a United Ireland any time soon

Irish Nationalism has proved to be the most successful, patient, and subtle form of local nationalism within these Islands. Few people would have bet on an end to British rule in Ireland in 1800, yet by 1900, most tiers of government outside Ulster were de facto controlled by Irish Nationalists, and by 1921, most of the country was independent.

The exception of course, was in the Six Counties that became Northern Ireland. The irresistible force that was Irish Nationalism encountered the immoveable object that was Ulster Unionism. From 1921 up until the start of the Troubles, Ulster Unionists enjoyed total political dominance in Northern Ireland, with an inbuilt 2:1 majority of Protestants over Roman Catholics.

That changed in the late 1960s. One can argue about the extent to which the Civil Rights Movement was a front for hardline Irish Republicanism, but there is no doubt it did much to discredit Ulster Unionism throughout the United Kingdom. The savage campaign that was waged by the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s gave every impression that Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom would shortly be brought to an end, particularly once Ted Heath’s government invited the PIRA leadership for talks

However, that is not how events turned out. Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom is probably more secure now than it was thirty seven years ago. An equally savage campaign of terror by loyalists, combined with relentless pressure from the security forces, led PIRA to abandon any hope of a quick military victory by the late 1970s, and ultimately, to bring their campaign to an end in the mid-1990s.

For a time, it seemed that demography might succeed where violence had failed. Between 1961 and 2001, the Roman Catholic share of Northern Ireland’s population rose from 34% to 44%. This was mirrored by the rise in the Nationalist vote across the Province, culminating in a vote share of 45.4%, in the European elections of 1999.

Just 10 years earlier, their share was 34%. Throughout the 1990s, the combination of a growing Catholic population, a greater willingness on the part of Catholics to vote, and a decreasing willingness on the part of Protestants to vote, seemed to be powering Nationalists to electoral victory.

With the benefit of hindsight, it now looks as though the 1999 result represents the high water mark of Irish Nationalist voting strength within Northern Ireland. What is useful about the Euro election results is that they treat the Province as a single constituency, and are conducted under PR. Thus, there is no need for tactical voting, and it is fairly easy to gauge the voting strength of the Nationalist and Unionist blocs.

Over the past ten years, the gap between Unionist and Nationalist support has remained unchanged, at 7%. Both Unionist and Nationalist voting strength has declined slightly, over that period, to the benefit of parties like Alliance and the Greens, but that is bad news for Nationalists, as voters for non-aligned parties are mostly small u unionists; that is, they don’t identify with bodies like the Orange Order, but they do wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, if only on the basis of better the devil you know.

For a time, it looked as though the stunning economic success of the Irish Republic, compared to the sluggish performance of Northern Ireland’s economy, heavily dependent as it is on public spending, might prove a means of persuading Unionists to join the Irish Republic. Unfortunately, that seems most unlikely now that Eire’s economy looks set to shrink by more than 10%, at the same time as high levels of public spending ensure that Northern Ireland’s recession will be much milder.

It’s hard to see what could now lead Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom. If perhaps, the SNP were to win a referendum on Scottish independence, that would be the game-changing event that would lead Unionists to change their minds about their position within the United Kingdom, but unless that happens, it’s hard to see what else might do so.

Sean Fear was a PB regular for several years with his weekly “Friday Slot”


Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Friday, June 6th, 2008

polling station1.JPG

    How a Defeat Can Turn into a Rout

One feature of the 2005 election was how well-distributed the Labour vote was, in terms of maximising the number of seats won by the Party. A 3% lead produced an overall majority of 66 (or 46, on the new boundaries). One feature of this was that around a quarter of Labour MPs had majorities in the 10-20% range, over the Conservatives, compared to fewer than a fifth who had majorities of less than 10% over the Conservatives. Until fairly recently, few people would have expected the Conservatives to take many seats with majorities of more than 10%, and such MPs could have been regarded as fairly, but not overwhelmingly, secure.

However, what can be an advantage at one election may be a disadvantage at the next. Current opinion polls are giving the Conservatives leads of 14-20%, more than enough to turn the seats in this range into a killing zone at the next election. This is well-illustrated by the latest ComRes opinion poll for the Independent. A result of Conservative 44%, Labour 30%, Liberal Democrat 16, gives the Conservatives a landslide majority (according to Baxter) of 102, and cuts Labour down to just 217 seats, barely more than the party got in 1983. Yet, a relatively small shift to Labour, say Conservative 42% to Labour 32%, sees the Conservative lead cut back to just 38, and Labour retaining another 33 seats. A result of Conservative 41%, to Labour 33% pegs the Conservative lead back to just 4 seats, and gives Labour another 18.

    It seems clear that at the next election, a very small shift in votes, as between Conservatives and Labour, will make all the difference between a respectable defeat for Labour, and a rout; or to look at it another way, between the Conservatives barely having an overall majority, and winning on the same scale as in 1987. It’s also clear where each party needs to concentrate its resources. The Labour seats with majorities of 10% or less should be left, by both sides, to fend for themselves, on the basis that the outcome there is virtually predetermined, while every effort should be made to hold, or to take, those in the range of 10-20%.

Last night saw five by-elections, and three deferred elections in Wales.

Allerdale Borough – All Saints: Conservative 587, Labour 536, BNP 99, Green 58, Independent 25. Conservative hold. This ward was split between the Conservatives, who won two seats, and Labour who won one, in 2007, and the result shows a small swing to the Conservatives.

Forest Heath District – Red Lodge: Lib Dem 321, Conservative 230, UKIP 23. Lib Dem gain from Conservative. Both Conservatives were elected unopposed in 2007, so no comparison can be made.

Newark and Sherwood District – Edwinstowe: Independent 715, Labour 459. Independent hold.

Shropshire County – Market Drayton: Conservative 1178, Lab 510, Independent 362, Independent 170. Conservative hold. This is, unusually, a two-member County division, and Labour came within 150 votes of winning one seat here in 2005. This represents a strong swing against Labour, compared to then.

Uttlesford District – Great Dunmow: Conservative 569, Lib Dem 515. Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat. The absence of an independent who stood in 2007, appears to have benefited the Conservatives.

Gwynedd County – Bowydd and Rhiw: Voice of Gwynedd 341, Plaid Cymru 247, Green 117. Voice of Gwynedd gain from Lab. Labour were returned unopposed here four years ago, yet left this seat undefended. Presumably, the former Labour councillor was someone who had a large personal following, with the party itself having little organisation in the area.

Newport City – Bettws: Labour 1128, 890, 789, Lib Dem 586, 451, 408, Conservative 331, 260, Plaid Cymru 75, Independent 50, Plaid Cymru 49, Independent 40. Labour hold three seats, but with a strong swing to the Liberal Democrats.

Newport City – St Julians: Lib Dem 1148, 1029, 985, Conservative 581, 552, 542, Labour 492, 467, 432, Plaid Cymru 111. Liberal Democrats hold three seats but with a strong swing to the Conservatives. These results from Newport confirm that Labour have lost overall control of the authority for the first time.

Guest Editor’s Note

Sean has indicated that due to increased work commitments this is likely to be his last regular article for some time. Can I on behalf of the PB team wish him all the very best and that we hope to see him writing for the site in the future. Many thanks Sean for all your articles which have always been very informative, balanced, and very well received.

Double Carpet


Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Friday, May 30th, 2008

election envelopes con lab ld.JPG

    Looking Forward to Next Year

In all likelihood, next year’s European Elections, and local government elections (mostly for the County Councils, and a few unitary and shadow authorities) will be held simultaneously. Year three of a Parliament is almost invariably the worst year for an incumbent government, in terms of secondary elections, and so Labour can expect to do slightly better next year than this (as they did in 1978, and as the Conservatives did in 1996).

Unfortunately for Labour, almost all the seats they will be defending will be ones they last won in 2005, on the same day as the general election, when they led by 3%. “Middle Englander” on Vote 2007 estimates that Labour will be defending 483 seats, of which 173 have majorities of 10% or less (with the Conservatives second in the large majority of cases). A further 162 have majorities of between 10% and 20%.

If this year’s results were to be repeated next year, Labour would be reduced to a handful of seats in English County Councils. Even if, as I expect, Labour do improve somewhat, they might well lose at least half the seats they’re defending. It is unlikely that they will retain control of a single County Council, either. There are a couple of authorities, such as Buckinghamshire, and Surrey, where in all likelihood, Labour will lose all its remaining seats. Others, such as Hertfordshire, Essex, and Kent, will see Labour representation reduced to low single figures.

At European Parliamentary level, it will be interesting to watch the fate of UKIP, who took 16% of the vote, and 12 seats, in 2004. UKIP have been wracked by leadership disputes since then, and have struggled to make an impact (although they did gain a handful of council seats this year). In all likelihood, their vote will fall sharply, although their relevance in European contests may well enable them to match the 8% vote share they won in 1999. This year’s London vote suggests that where the UKIP vote falls sharply, the main beneficiary is the Conservative Party, although the BNP can expect to benefit to a smaller extent.

If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by next year, then the number of Britain’s MEPs will fall from 78 to 72. That means that while the Conservatives may expect to pick up a handful of extra seats at UKIP’s expense, all other parties will struggle to make any gains. Both the Greens and the BNP will struggle to win seats, even if they push up their vote compared to 2004. Labour and the Liberal Democrats will probably see little change, compared to 2004.

Last night, there were four by-elections, all in Somerset. No seats changed hands.

Somerset County: Shepton Mallet Conservative 950, Lib Dem 783, Labour 271. This was a three-way marginal in 2005, but the collapse in the Labour vote seems, if anything, to have helped the Conservatives.

Mendip District, Street North Lib Dem 347, Conservative 297, Independent 81. This showed a big swing to the Conservatives, compared to 2007.

Mendip District, Shepton East Conservative 435, Lib Dem 307, Labour 122.

South Somerset District, Chard Crimchard Lib Dem 423, Conservative 320, BNP 154.


Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Friday, May 23rd, 2008


    Why I believe that Gordon is Safe

It is always dangerous to write about the internal culture of a political party which you are not a member of. Nonetheless, I will stick my neck out and say that I expect Gordon Brown to lead Labour into the next election.

That may seem a strange thing to say, on the morning after Labour’s sixth worst by-election result against the Conservatives, and when the Conservatives lead by anything up to 20% in opinion polls. Nevertheless, I am confident in making that prediction, even though I think that he is heading for almost certain defeat at the next election.

Firstly, I can think of no alternative who would be any more popular with the public. A recent Yougov survey found that a whole range of alternative Labour leaders would either be no more popular with the public than Brown, or else would be even more unpopular. A partisan Conservative like me would be delighted to see Labour MP’s overthrow Brown, and install someone like Harriet Harman as leader, but it just isn’t going to happen. There is no saviour figure among senior Labour politicians. Labour’s unpopularity, in my view, is not mainly down to voters disliking Gordon Brown (although they do). It is much more down to the fact that they have been in power so long that voters have grown sick of them, and just don’t want to listen to them any longer. A change of leader wouldn’t cure that.

Secondly, and related to my first paragraph, why would any senior Labour figure want the job? Who would wish to be responsible for leading the party to almost certain defeat? Nobody wishes to be a fag-end Prime Minister, and the Labour Party’s young Turks, such as Ed Balls and the Millibands, would surely see no advantage in following the example of William Hague, and becoming leader at precisely the wrong time.

Thirdly, although too much can be made of the constitutional difficulties of getting rid of a Labour leader (if they really wanted him to go, a way would be found) it does remain the case that Labour are far more reluctant to remove their leaders than the Conservatives are. Both Wilson and Callaghan led the Labour party through catastrophic by-election defeats, without being replaced. Attlee suffered two general election defeats, before standing down. Labour is reluctant to remove its leaders, and the bitterness engendered in the Conservative Party by Margaret Thatcher’s removal suggests they are right.

Parties can, obviously, act irrationally, and if the Parliamentary Labour Party panics, the momentum to get rid of Brown may become unstoppable. But I see no advantage to them in doing so.

There were no local by-elections last night.

  • SkyNews Mike Smithson is due on at 7.30pm tonight