National vote shares:
|GE 2015||Feb 2017 ComRes poll||Change|
What can we glean from yesterday’s by-election results?
1. The Conservatives are markedly more popular in 2017 under Theresa May than they were in 2015 under David Cameron.
2. Liberal Democrat fortunes are slowly reviving, with the Party’s improved Stoke and Copeland performances reinforced by recent notable council by-election wins. On the present trend this is likely to have a significant impact on the number of Lib Dem MPs elected in 2010 and especially on those parts of the country (like the South West) where the Conservatives won big in 2015 but with soft majorities.
3. UKIP’s performance in Stoke will be greeted with dismay by the Party as it confirms a pattern of poor post-Referendum results. Stoke should have seen a result for UKIP eclipsing those of the Heywood & Middleton and Eastleigh by-elections where the Party came second. The clock is ticking for Paul Nuttall.
4. Most significantly of all, however, it is hard to see how Labour has any current prospect of victory in 2020. The Party is squeezed from all sides: the Conservatives will benefit from UKIP’s post-Referendum existential threat; Scotland has been lost to the SNP; and the Liberal Democrats are eating away at Labour’s centrist vote base.
In the first three years of the 2010 to 2015 Parliament there were 12 by-elections in England and Wales. Labour’s average improvement in vote share on their 2010 performance was just over 5% points (even including Bradford West which was contested by George Galloway and where Labour lost 20% of their vote share).
Since the 2015 General Election there have been 10 by-elections. Excluding Batley & Spen, Labour’s average performance finds them losing vote share and in the five most recent of these the average loss exceeds 5% points. That is an execrable performance for the Opposition.
In the mid-1990s I headed up the political research unit for a polling company providing data to a Conservative Party that knew it was heading for disaster. I realised that in such circumstances, fuelled by self-delusion and self-preservation, political parties are almost always incapable of changing their trajectory. The Labour Party seems to be facing a similar fate.