Well, results are in from both byelections:
Sedgefield was a Labour hold, no surprises there, and as predicted, a large increase in the Lib Dem vote. Interesting to look at the change between 2005 and now, here:
Tony Blair (Lab): 24,421, 58.9%
Al Lockwood (C): 5,972, 14.4%
Robert Browne (LD): 4,935 11.9%
Reg Keys (Ind): 4,252 10.3%
Phil Wilson (Lab): 12,528, 44.77%
Greg Stone (LD): 5,572, 19.91%
Graham Robb (C): 4,082, 14.59%
Andrew Spence (BNP): 2,494, 8.91%
Apart from registering my discomfort at the introduction of a sizeable BNP vote, the thing to note here is that, looking at the percentages (since the difference in turnout makes a numerical comparison easy to misread), we seem to have picked off a fair amount of Labour support. This is significant because people had been saying we might leapfrog the Tories simply by picking up Reg Keys’ anti war vote. The question is, did we pick only those voters up after all, leaving Labour’s majority slashed simply because their voters were staying at home?
I don’t want to diminish the achievement of Greg Stone at all here, and I think what we can clearly see is that it is not dishonest of us at all to suggest that the real challenge in the North does not come from the Tories, who have failed to pick up much momentum at all here. Nevertheless, it would be possible to over-egg our success here.
Anyway, on to Ealing Southall. Again, it’s worth comparing between the last election and tonight:
Piara Khabra (Lab): 22,937, 49%
Nigel Bakhai (LD): 11,497, 24%
Mark Nicholson (C): 10,147, 22%
Sarah Edwards (Green): 2,175, 5%
Virendra Sharma (Lab): 15188, 41%
Nigel Bakhai (LD): 10118, 28%
Tony Lit (C): 8230, 22%
Sarah Edwards (Green): 1135, 3%
Personally, I have to admit to more than a little schadenfreude over the Tories performance here, seeing as David Cameron has quite so much invested in this one, and seeing as how they’ve fought a pretty unpleasant media war all the way through this. But enough of that, what does this mean for us?
Well, I think Ming is safe. Which is to say, I think that there is little here that should make us worried about Ming’s leadership. Any momentum that gets going behind a Ming Must Go campaign now is motivated elsewhere. As objectively as I can look at this, I don’t think tonight amounts to an indictment of Ming.
We must remember that, much as we hoped it would backfire on Labour, they set the three week timetable for these elections for a good reason. From the other side, we have the incredible high-level investment from the Tory party in this one. Lib Dems may be by-election experts, but this was a tough one, and all the parties knew it.
The BBC are now busy trying to drive a wedge in everywhere they can find an opening (I have News 24 sat on my screen as I type), but fundamentally, the only story to be found here is that for all their energy, “David Cameron’s Conservatives” have increased their share of the vote by a pitiful amount, and that Labour’s share has been slashed, most notably by a Lib Dem swing.
Curiously, the BBC are now busily telling me that the Tories and the Lib Dems are in much the same boat, and little has changed for either. I wonder why?