Election campaign

South Yorkshire goes to the polls

The second largest by-election ever held in the UK takes place today.

Voters across South Yorkshire have the chance to choose a new police and crime commissioner, following the resignation in September of Shaun Wright in the wake of the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal.

The total number eligible to vote is 1,008,967. Just how many of these people choose to cast their ballot will be one of the big stories of the poll. Turnout at the previous contest in 2012 was a miserable 14.5%. Today’s figure will almost certainly be lower. It may even dip below the all-time low of 10.2% seen in the West Midlands PCC by-election in August.

Such a pathetic turnout would supply more ammunition to Labour and the Liberal Democrats, both of whom have said they would scrap PCCs if they win the general election.

The other big story of the by-election will be the identity of the winner. Or more precisely, how small a margin of victory the winner will have over the runner-up.

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Greater Manchester: Labour’s rickety fortress

The UK’s second-largest conurbation has a population of 2.5m. It has 27 parliamentary constituencies, over three-quarters of which are Labour. It is one of the party’s traditional bedrocks – which is why it has also become one of the party’s potential weak points.

For in Greater Manchester you will find plenty of Labour seats that have been taken too much for granted for too long. Among them is Heywood & Middleton, which the party almost lost to Ukip in a by-election at the start of October. Heywood was not a safe Labour seat – its majority was just above 5,000 – but it was nonetheless thought to be reliable. Dependable. Solid.

It proved to be none of those things, and those qualities must also now be discarded from many of Labour’s 22 Greater Manchester constituencies.

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Election forecasts

Both the Lib Dems and Labour are now in the SNP’s sights

Speculation over how well the SNP will do at the election has not abated since the referendum a month ago.

Almost all of it has focused on how many seats the party may take from Labour, with some predictions talking of a total as high as 25.

I thought I’d take a different perspective and examine how well the SNP could do at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

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Election campaign

The Ukip inflation game

If you’re in the sensationalism industry, you’re only as good as your next headline.

And if you’re in the Ukip sensationalism industry, that means headlines of ever-increasing bluster.

Over the past few weeks different newspapers have sequentially ratcheted up the size of Ukip’s ambition. First the party was said to be targeting nine seats at the election. Then they were “looking to win 25 seats”. Then it was 30 seats. Yesterday this rocketed spectacularly to 100.

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Marginal seats

An electoral pact could be on the cards – but it’s not between the Tories and Ukip

If either Labour or the Conservatives need to form a “grand coalition” to take power after the election, the parties of Northern Ireland may suddenly find themselves kingmakers.

The Tories would look for support to the DUP, while Labour would hope for the backing of the SDLP. The DUP currently has eight seats, the SDLP three. Small numbers, but vital ones if they would help clinch a majority in the House of Commons.

What happens in Northern Ireland should therefore be of utmost interest and concern to the main Westminster parties. And last week brought a development that may prove significant indeed.

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Marginal seats

Why Labour will struggle to become even the largest party in the next parliament

I made the point a few days ago that, for all the attention being rightly focused on Ukip, the Greens and the SNP, it’s nonetheless still the case that the Labour-Conservative battleground will determine the outcome of the election.

I thought I’d follow this up with an illustration of the size of the task facing Labour to – at the very least – become the largest party in the next parliament.

The party won 258 seats in 2010. Let’s assume for the sake of argument it holds all of these seats in 2015, with the exception of Bradford West, which it lost to George Galloway in the 2012 by-election. That gives us 257. But if we add in Corby, which Labour won from the Tories also at a by-election in 2012, that takes us back up to 258.

Now let’s decide on a figure for the total number of seats that would mean Labour is the largest party in the next parliament. As a bare minimum, I’m going to suggest 300. That’s six fewer seats than the Tories managed in 2010, but 300 feels like a useful and symbolic target.

To get to 300, Labour needs to win an additional 42 seats. Where might these come from?

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Local elections

Latest by-election results: Ukip’s forward march falters

Ukip had a number of chances in this week’s council by-elections to broaden the momentum it has enjoyed since winning the constituency of Clacton a fortnight ago. A few victories at the polls would have also offset some of the negative publicity the party has attracted over the past few days.

But no such victories were forthcoming.

Their best chance was probably in a contest for a seat on Shepway council. Less than two months ago Ukip beat the Tories in the Folkestone Harvey Central ward. But in Thursday’s by-election in the neighbouring ward of Folkestone Harvey West, the Conservatives held on:

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