Both sides, in short, are evaluating what happens now the Lib Dem vote has collapsed. And whether the UKIP surge can continue. Either way, it is for Labour to exploit and the Tories to repulse and repel (actually, they do that, en masse, quite well).
Eaton’s piece is the terser, but makes three points (which Malcolm glosses here) on the back of the Corby by-election:
- The Labour vote increased proportionately by nearly 10%. Were that to be the norm at a future General Election — which, we must assume is still slated for 7th May 2015 — Labour would romp it. As it happens, Malcolm would not be surprised if — given the faintest glimmer of an economic silver lining in 2014 — the Coalition didn’t somehow collapse this ‘fixed’ (in any sense you choose) parliament. Indeed, Cameron may be able to achieve just that by his long-trailered, long-over-due ‘big’ speech on Europe — and some kind of pledge/promise/wishful thinking on a referendum (cue Tom Newton Dunn at The Sun — this is one topic where the Murdoch press are a ‘must read’).
- If the Lib Dem decline persists, Labour stands to pick up those Tory/Labour marginals where the Lib Dem vote exceeds the present Tory majority (Eaton counts 37 of these). Several of those are seats (such as Clegg’s) with a large university student vote. The previous generation of those students (who will have passed on by 2015) were blinkered by the Lib Dem hypocrisy on fees, and by natural resentment at Labour’s involvement in US wars: go figure.
- If the Lib Dems do a Lazarus, and/or if the incumbency factor works in the Lib Dem MP’s favour, the Tories also lose out — because, again on Eaton’s arithmetic, there are 38 Lib Dem seats where the Tories run second. What Eaton doesn’t include is the West Country factor, where the Lib Dems (in fact, unreconstructed Liberals) have deep roots, and should continue to blossom.
Blackburn attempts to put a good face on what was an appalling day for the Tories:
- the rise of independents;
- that it was all a profoundly anti-politics election, and low turnout is a long-term trend. Err … is it? —
What is agreed by all-comers, is that Cameron is:
- damned if he does — any concessions to the rabid Right and the UKIPpers alienates the centre, leaving that ground open to the Labour ‘One Nation’ ploy.
- double-damned if he doesn’t — the Tory Right and the Right Outside are ‘on manoeuvres’, as Norman Tebbit cogently explains:
… there is plenty for the Conservative strategists to worry about. Whilst the BNP did rather poorly, particularly in Corby, UKIP on the whole did rather well. In the very low poll at Manchester, UKIP came within half a dozen votes of overtaking the Conservatives. At Corby, where the Conservative vote collapsed, UKIP scored a respectable 5,000-plus votes, triple that of the Lib Dems, and at Cardiff they marginally increased their vote.
In short, while Labour seems to have stemmed the loss of votes to BNP, the Tories are still losing support to UKIP; and even worse for Mr Cameron, UKIP is strengthening in advance of the 2014 European elections. The Tory cry that a vote for UKIP is a wasted vote may be wearing a bit thin.
All that is the prime focus on today’s editorial in The Independent:
Mr Cameron is caught in a difficult bind. He is facing a Labour Party showing tentative signs of recovery from its 2010 defeat, while to his right there is an anti-EU party attracting votes at a point when Europe soars up the political agenda. But if the Tory leader hardens his stance on the EU to appease Eurosceptics, he risks giving up an even greater share of the more moderate centre ground he once sought to occupy. And his departure from this electorally fertile terrain in other policy areas is one of the reasons his party struggled in the by-elections.
That’s without tangling too closely with the tar-baby (a dangerous metaphor, Malcolm fully appreciates, but one which he can happily defend on non-racist terms) of ‘localism’. ‘Localism’ may have been a good notion in happier times, but the centralisers of Tory policy (Gove, Shapps, Pickles …) have done for it, good and proper.
And another thing …
The North impinges further south each year.
The Tories are rapidly heading towards extinction north of the Trent and outside of the leafiest of shires. David Blackburn, in that piece noted above, cheerfully quotes himself from the previous day:
… the Tories’ woeful showing in South Yorkshire (beaten into 3rd by the English Democrats) and in Durham (finished a miserable 4th), to say nothing of the debacle in the Manchester Central by-election (where the party lost its deposit), should concern the party.
That is, not necessarily, even for socialist bigot like Malcolm, a good outcome.
‘Should concern the party’? Should concern the nation! For all its faults the Tory Party (indeed the two-party system) is essential to British democracy as we know it. Much as the Lib Dems might wish for a “three-party system”, that — as we have painfully discovered through this benighted ConDem coalition — arrives at sterility and even extremism (Gove, Shapps, Pickles … Duncan Smith, secret courts). Of course the whole system could — and arguably should — be given a whole new architecture, by devolution of real power to regions and localities and/or by proportional representation. For the time being, pending that day of universal liberation, we have to work within the parameters we have got.
Now we have the weekend commentariat to expect in the Sundays. That should be instructive, particularly if one or other of the ‘usuals’ comes up with a different, original interpretation. And, as Malcolm’s Dear Old Dad frequently opined: ‘It must be true: it’s in the papers’.