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Next Week’s By-Election Has Some Tough Messages For Tories

Last Updated: Friday, February 7th, 2014

No-one in Westminster is under the illusion that a by-election is an accurate barometer of national opinion. Disproportionate amounts of money are thrown at the campaign, headline-hungry newspapers give gaffes a prominence they might never receive in a General Election, and everyone’s on the lookout for upsets or shocks.

Freakish as they may be, they are also testing grounds for new strategies and messages, so they are worth watching. Wythenshawe and Sale East is no exception.

Here all the main parties have a trial run at some of their biggest hurdles for 2015.

Labour are out to seize as many disillusioned Lib Dems as possible. The Conservatives hope they can make some inroads in the North of England. UKIP want to prove that they can win over Labour voters just as successfully as they recruit switchers from the Conservatives in the South East.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, hope not to be absolutely humiliated.

The news so far is only positive for the Labour Party. Lord Ashcroft’s new polling in the seat, published yesterday, shows them way out in front on 61 per cent of the vote, up 17 points. The Lib Dem vote is correspondingly down 17, at 5 per cent. The squeeze seems to be working.

UKIP, on 15 per cent, ought to feel quite despondent. Their campaign has been squarely targeted at Labour voters, expressing nostalgia for neglected Labour values and promising to “protect your benefits”. Despite that, they still appear to be generating new votes largely from former Tories.

Coming second, albeit a distant second, in the poll is another sign that they have largely shaken off the curse of being thought a wasted vote, though. Indeed, there are echoes of Eastleigh in the number of people who are backing UKIP as a tactical vote to defeat Labour.

But given that Nigel Farage declared 2014 the year he would scare Labour, it’s hard to see many in Miliband’s team being overly frightened thus far.

A poll is not an election result, of course, but still there are good reasons for Conservatives – sitting in third place, on 14 per cent – to be worried.

Not only is UKIP drawing votes away from the Tory candidate, but there is further evidence of a serious disconnect between people’s opinions and their voting behaviour.

CCHQ strategists take comfort from the fact that Cameron and Osborne lead national polls on economic credibility. But in Wythenshawe and Sale East that is a very poor measure of how people will vote – there, the two Eds have a 5 per cent lead on the economy, but the Labour candidate is 47 points ahead of the Conservative.

Worse, those who think the economy will improve over the next year are far less likely to think that will translate into improvements for their own family.

Even the supposed magic bullet, the dread prospect of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, has less impact than many Tories would hope. Only 43 per cent of voters in the constituency actively want him to run the country – but that doesn’t seem to be denting Labour’s lead.

If Eastleigh was the great shock to the system for many Conservatives, Wythenshawe and Sale East ought to be an exercise in learning how to up our game. From this evidence, there’s much to do.

By Mark Wallace



Charlotte Leslie MP: The hypocrisy of Baroness Morgan over quango appointments  ‘One of new Labour’s great triumphs of seizing power was, in true communist style, to fill as many public positions as possible with their own people. Blair managed a heady 75 per cent of public appointments to Labour supporters. When the Conservatives came to power, 70 per cent of those winning public appointments and declaring political affiliation were allied to Labour.’

Mark Wallace: Tory Tea Party? War on Women? Rubbish – the deselections are down to a welcome grassroots revival  ‘As deference dies a death, people become more willing to stand up to MPs whom they feel are lacking. At the same time, the internet makes it easier to scrutinise what (if anything) your MP is doing, and the contrast with their more proactive colleagues becomes more stark. The simple fact is that McIntosh and Yeo’s Association evidently did not feel well-served by their MPs.’

Brian Monteith: A Scottish Yes vote would have a vast impact on the 2015 general election  ‘We could easily see a situation where England or even England and Wales has voted for a Conservative majority but will be denied this by the number of Labour (and SNP) MPs coming from Scotland. The media would be apoplectic with rage, the Daily Mail would be leading the charge of injustice with other papers not far behind them. There would be a constitutional crisis the like of which has never been seen.’

Paul Goodman: We know what the Liberal Democrats are against in government, but what are they for?   ‘The Lib Dems are behaving rather like a spouse who doesn’t want to be with their partner but won’t move out of the house – and, when asked about this peculiar behaviour, boasts that at least he’s stopping that spouse re-decorating the home and building an extension.

That’s not to say that the Conservatives are any happier in this loveless cohabitation either, or that the Lib Dems’ behaviour is without logic.’

Andrew Gimson interviews Steve Baker MP: “Number one the welfare state isn’t good enough and number two we can’t afford it.”   ‘Steve Baker will demand a vote of confidence in David Cameron’s leadership, if after the next election there is any backsliding on the Prime Minister’s pledge of an In-Out referendum on our membership of the European Union.  Baker, MP for Wycombe and a member of the 1922 Committee’s executive, will put his demand to Graham Brady, chairman of the ’22.’

Pete Hoskin: George Osborne, man of limitations   ‘One of the strangest things about Osborne’s new demeanour is that he’s adopted it at a time when the economy, as well as his own stock, is rising – but perhaps that’s the point. The strategist in him may figure that it’s easier to be “straight with the people” (and with the markets) when they don’t think you’re doing a bad job overall. He can now count on a whole bucketload of sugar to help the medicine go down.’

By Mark Wallace

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