Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is Rochester and Strood the most important by-election since Darlington 1983?

We've discussed this before, but by-election upsets are much more important when they happen just before a general election than when they happen at any other time.  That's why Govan 1973 is more historically significant than Govan 1988 - it generated momentum that just a few weeks later carried the SNP to an unprecedented general election breakthrough.

Probably the most important by-election in modern history was Darlington in 1983, because it took place on the eve of a general election that would decide whether Labour lost their position as the main opposition to the Tories - and if they had, there might never have been a Labour government again.  The SDP started the by-election as favourites, but their campaign was almost single-handedly destroyed by the BBC's Vincent Hanna (the Michael Crick of his day) who relentlessly undermined the candidate's credibility at press conferences.  As a result, Labour held on for an unlikely victory, and a few weeks later fended off the SDP/Liberal Alliance on a national level by just 3%.

It's quite possible that Darlington changed the course of history - if the SDP had won, Labour might have slipped to third-party status, or else they might have quickly changed their leader, in which case Denis Healey could have mounted a credible challenge to Margaret Thatcher.  Either way, things would have been very different.

Rochester and Strood tonight looks for all the world like a similar turning-point.  If, as expected, there is a UKIP victory, it's likely there will be a bandwagon effect for Farage involving further defections, less than six months before a general election.  But if there's a surprise Darlington-esque hold for the defending party, the UKIP bubble may be deflated somewhat, and next May could prove to be a massive anti-climax for them.

From a hard-headed tactical point of view, it's difficult to know what we should be hoping for - a UKIP surge could split the right-wing vote and bring about a majority Labour government, thus depriving the SNP of any leverage in a hung parliament.  But on the other hand, a strong UKIP could hasten the crisis over Britain's EU membership that might lead to Scotland becoming independent fairly quickly.  We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

*  *  *

So, who can resist a mysterious summons from Robin McAlpine?  He asked if he could run something past me, so I ended up meeting him and Miriam Brett in a cafe in the west end of Glasgow this afternoon.  I'm not sure I was able to help them as much as they'd hoped, but from my own perspective it was fascinating to hear about their future plans, which are almost mind-boggling in scope and ambition.

One thing that became clear is that Robin could urgently do with a good night's sleep, or a full day off now and again.  So if anyone is trying to think of an 'alternative' Christmas present to give him...

33 comments:

  1. My sense is that it won't be as important as Darlington. It'll be a comfortable UKIP victory, but I think that is largely priced in. If the margin of victory is bigger than expected (say 18-20 pts), that could change the political calculation of wavering would-be defectors, but I suspect most will already have made their decision already and we will soon find out if there is a bang or a whimper. Any defections will hurt the Tories, particularly if they are followed by by-elections, maximising the publicity. But it would take a significant number of defections, or some high profile defections (former ministers), or a leadership challenge, to really push the narrative on. Otherwise the significance will only be a blunting of Tory momentum and a slight damaging of their chances next May.

    Anyone triggering a leadership challenge at this point would be insane, given the Tories' progress in the polls and Cameron's personal polling. So, quite tight odds, then...

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  2. Hey James maybe you could persuade Robin McAlpine to stand as an independent MP next May? I reckon the SNP might sanction this.

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  3. James, I think the 1988 Govan by election was even more important than the 1973 one. There was a bigger swing from Labour to SNP, and John McAllion has said that the Sillars win caused Labour to get serious about the Constitutional Convention, and hence a Scottish parliament.

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    1. Yes, that's a good point.

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  4. QTWTAIN Cowdenbeath was a more important election as a loss for Labour would have seen the end of the gibbering nutcase. Which is why he, or his underlings, had the ballot rigged and the registers destroyed.

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    1. When was this and who are you talking about? Not ringing any bells here.

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    2. I think Anon means Glenrothes.

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    3. Oh, if he can't even get the name of the constituency right, I'm not impressed. I don't think it has ever been established what happened at Glenrothes. I can see the reasons for suspicion, but no hard evidence seems to have emerged and the SNP accepted the result.

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  5. wee jock poo-pong mcplopNovember 20, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    Sorry, what does QWTAIN mean?

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  6. "Question To Which The Answer Is No."

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  7. Is Rochester and Strood the most important by-election since Darlington 1983?

    Funniest certainly as the out of touch westminster twits seem determined to prove just how jawdroppingly useless they are by losing to a public schoolboy racist like Farage.

    Hard to know who will come up with the most laughable excuse for losing. The incompetent fop made it clear from the outset (because he really is that clueless) that the tories were going to throw everything at it and it was 'make or break'. I'm afraid all the pitiful spin in the world won't change that fact. The EU flouncing, sending all those MPs and ministers to campaign (including Cameron) the petulant briefing to the press about Reckless after the fact (maybe the chumocracy shouldn't have put a useless twat like Gove in charge of the Whips if they don't want defections LOL) the tory press floundering about witlessly first hyping Rochester up then tying to pretend it isn't happening etc. It's certainly great comedy but it means anyone trying to spin a kipper win as somehow 'expected' now looks an utter fool.

    Not that little Ed or calamity Clegg are looking any more impressive. Clegg's ostrich faction look to be getting ready (yet again) to fight their 'spin war' over losing a deposit or not (that's how 'relevant' the lib dems are right now) and things certainly ain't looking good for them.

    Keith Adams ‏@keitheadams 30m

    Exit poll at Rochester and Strood shows Libdems on 0%. I kid you not, 0%


    LOL

    Little Ed is obviously neck deep in the shit on the eve of a Cameron humiliation. What with Thornberry dropping his party in it by further highlighting that little Ed and the shadow cabinet are a metropolitan elite almost as full of out of touch twits as Cameron's chumocracy.

    As to the actual political ramifications of a kipper win, it's not really defections though more of those would clearly cause massive damage to the fop. It's the drawing of lines and entrenching of positions for the coming tory split over the EU. Make no mistake that split and civil war is on the way and it's precisely what Farage is counting on. There is a very small chance that Farage could get enough MPs to make a difference in 2015 but the kippers are really a right-wing faction and a pressure group on the tories and always have been. Now that BOO tories seem to have somewhere to go it's just a touch unlikely that mere threats or founces are going to work for much longer so it's going to be full headless chicken mode again for tories as the fop does his John Major impersonation again.

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    1. No names, no pack drill, but I have known a former senior employee of the aforementioned incompetent fop's father for a very long time through a relative of mine who has been her neighbour for decades.

      On one occasion I cajoled her into giving a reason why the fop had not joined the hugely lucrative family stockbroking business; was he simply not smart enough when it came to numbers and such complicated stuff? Big smile and nod of the head from the person in the know. I had been convinced of this since the fop first made a splash but confirmation from someone who had worked for the family for 40 years was scary confirmation.

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  8. Labour really want to destroy themselves. Their idiotic condemnation of the English flag really has finished them. Everyone down there now knows they are anti-English. Everyone up here already knows they are anti-Scottish,. All they have left is Wales. Damnit Plaid get your act together.

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    1. In her original sneery tweet she referred to the three flags as "British"! Off with her head!

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  9. I am no fan of UKIP and I am pretty stunned they won that seat. I know its a by election, where large swings take place, but I thought the tories would hold onto it....just. Walter the softie aka the cad cameron, might be in big trouble if its true about another two wanting to defect.

    I am also perplexed they dropped the case against the EU, seems very odd....just shiws how incompetent they are.

    Then we look across at Labour rofl

    We can really hammer into these fk's in 2015. They are ripe for a reality check.

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    1. "I am no fan of UKIP and I am pretty stunned they won that seat."

      All the polls indicated that Reckless would win, some of them by a much wider margin than the actual result. Though it remains to be seen whether they'll be able to hold onto it in May.

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  10. Aye, "Go to bed with the union and you wake up with UKIP."

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  11. Rochester & Stroud. Liberal Democrats. 349 votes. 0.87%

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  12. This morning Radio 4 gave the UKIP vote, The Tory vote and then jumped to the Lib-Dem vote.
    When I went to the BBC News page I had to go to the very, very bottom to find out what the Green vote had been.

    So the Greens are in the news black hole too.
    Clive Gregory (Green) 1,692 (4.22%)

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    1. Losing their deposit is hardly a good result for the Greens. They should really have been hoping for more given how utterly useless Labour are right now.

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  14. Taking the comment in the last paragraph of the main article about Labour winning an outright majority - if the SNP do well and UKIP take a few more seats then doesn't it start to make it difficult for any party to achieve an overall majority especially if the Greens do well and the Labour vote in Wales collapses?

    (and that's a point well made, bjsalba - if the Greens had as much attention as UKIP then they'd be serious contenders for many more seats)

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  15. As others have said, a higher turnout in 2015 will mean Mark Reckless is going to struggle to hold on. I don't see there being more defections.

    As for the Liberal Democrats on 0.9% in a byelection: It's not exactly breaking news they are in deep, deep trouble, but this a record breaking low for a party in Government. What an absolute mess for them.

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  16. I see today's Populus sub-sample has Labour ahead of SNP by 38-32 in Scotland. That must be the first poll of any sort (sub sample or full) that has shown that in several weeks.

    Populus have shown SNP with a lower % than the other companies consistently over the last few weeks, struggling to break 40. It could just be due to the type of panel that Populus have in Scotland, which is then balanced across GB to give a representative sample of GB as a whole.

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    1. Well the YouGov poll conducted on the same dates has the SNP ahead 40-25 in the cross break.

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    2. Aye. I think that kind of confirms what I was saying above. Their results have been worse for the SNP and better for Labour over the last month or so. Not by a small margin either, it's been by about 10 points each way compared to YouGov.

      I think the next really interesting polling in Scotland will be when Ashcroft releases his constituency data. I read this week that this is going to be released in December.

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    3. Yes I agree that constituency data is needed to get a clearer picture. My main question is whether the SNP boost is concentrated in west/central areas which had the highest yes votes, and if we have lost ground to the Conservatives in the north east (although the Survation poll had the Tories on the exact same percentage they got in 2010, so maybe that's unlikely).

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    4. James : Populus are the only pollster that has had subsamples showing Labour ahead of the SNP since the referendum, and it's now happened a number of times - I think this is the fourth? So today's poll continues the familiar pattern, rather than breaks it. Populus seem to produce worse results for the SNP than anyone else because of the party ID weighting scheme that is used.

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    5. Correct. Weighting Party ID back to 2011 estimates probably works well enough in rGB, but in Scotland, where people have genuinely changed their party ID over the last 3.5 years, it produces mince. In today's poll,, SNP Party ID was downweighted by 37% from 63 to 40, and consequentlt Scots responses downweighted by 10% too.

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  17. Ossie O'Brian held Darlington in 1983 when Labour were at a low ebb then lost the seat to the Tories at the General Election a few weeks later. By-election sometimes don't reflect the actual electoral tide that flows at General Elections and this was one and it may happen again in the Rochester seat and maybe not at Clacton.

    Dick Traverne won the 1972 Lincoln by-election by a mile that he triggered when he left Labour to form his own Social Democrat movement which was limited to his Lincoln seat. He narrowly held on in February 1974 then lost it at the October 1974 seat. He rode the media wave his by-election bid was made but when the spotlight was turned off his support diminished. UKIP's success will be reflective of what coverage the BBC gives them as it is media driven.

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  18. Populous has a weird weighting - they ask what party do you most identify with and they weigh that to the 2010 level which down weighs the SNP in this case 63 to 40.

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  19. Interesting to see who Sturgeon likes or not with the SNP reshuffle. Could she not have waited till after the election for a bit of in-fighting?

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  20. Aye, not really a fan of Angela Constance,hopefully she does a good job but I don't think she is the pick of the litter...anyways.

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