Labour looks set to hold a seat in Heywood and Middleton this week, while the Conservatives look likely to lose two of theirs.
Labour looks set to hold a seat in Heywood and Middleton this week, while the Conservatives look likely to lose two of theirs
As the well-worn phrase goes, a week really is a long time in politics. This being so, the next fortnight looks set to feel more like an eternity, with UKIP potentially saving Ed Miliband’s bacon.
Faced by a Conservative party which, according to some polling, is now leading Labour; and following a poor performance at the party conference and now open speculation over his future as leader, Miliband needs a dramatic shift in the narrative if he is to regain any sense of momentum towards Downing Street.
It’s momentum which, over the next two weeks, could well be delivered by the good voters of Heywood and Middleton, Clacton, Rochester and Strood, with good polling for Labour across all three seats.
Heywood and Middleton
This Thursday, the people of Heywood and Middleton will go to the polls to elect a new MP following the sudden and sad death of Jim Dobbin.
Located in the Borough of Rochdale, Labour held the seat in 2010 with a majority of almost 6,000, securing just over 40 per cent of the votes cast, despite a higher than the national average swing from Labour to Conservatives. At the time, UKIP languished in fifth place, behind the BNP, securing just under 3 per cent of the vote.
Faced with growing concerns about the threat that UKIP now poses to Labour, the bookies have shortened the odds on Farage’s army achieving what would be a sensational victory and one that could be terminal for Ed Miliband.
Faced with such potential headaches, Labour will be cheered by the latest polling carried out by Lord Ashcroft, showing that the party is ‘on course for a comfortable victory in this week’s Heywood & Middleton by-election’.
According to the findings in the seat, Labour are on 47 per cent with just days to go before the poll, 19 percentage points ahead of second placed UKIP on 28 per cent. The Conservatives are languishing on 16 per cent, with the Lib Dems on 5 per cent and the Greens on 4 per cent.
Interestingly, just 17 per cent of respondents said that they were feeling the benefits of the economic recovery, compared to 38 per cent who said they hadn’t felt the benefits but expect to do so and 45 per cent who hadn’t felt the benefits and don’t expect to.
Douglas Carswell’s decision to defect to UKIP at the end of August took Westminster by total surprise, re-starting the internal sense of panic within the Conservative party about the threat that UKIP, both directly or indirectly, could pose to their ability to form the next government.
Just two days before what could prove a momentous day for British politics, it is clear that despite the words in public, most serious political commentators and contributors have pretty much accepted that Clacton will be UKIP’s first seat that it wins in the House of Commons of its own right.
Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, authors of the popular, Revolts on the Right, have said of Clacton:
“This was already the most favourable seat in the country for UKIP before Douglas Carswell defected. Now UKIP has the perfect storm: ideal demography and ideal politics.”
Such sentiments have been backed up also by polling in the seat. According to Lord Ashcroft’s data published last month, UKIP are now on course for a landslide victory in the seat, polling 56 per cent of the vote, remarkable given that they didn’t even contest the seat in 2010. The Conservatives meanwhile are languishing on 24 per cent, down by 29 per cent from their performance in 2010. Labour meanwhile stand on 16 per cent (down 9 per cent) with the Lib Dems on just 2 per cent (down 11 per cent).
What’s more, Douglas Carswell personal popularity looks set to take UKIP over the winning line, with 56 per cent of those polled in Clacton agreeing that he seems more principled than most politicians and 64 per cent saying that he has been a good MP for the constituency.
Rochester and Strood
If the Conservatives are able to dismiss Clacton as albeit considerable local difficulty, the Rochester and Strood by-election being held a week on Thursday is a must-win for the party.
Brought on by the defection of Mark Reckless on the eve of the Conservative conference, the venom trained on him by senior Tories has been matched only by that which the Lib Dems are pouring on their coalition partners in Glasgow this week. Indeed, Conservative chairman, Grant Shapps accused Reckless of simply ‘lying’ when he pledge loyalty to the prime minister.
Out of all the by-elections coming up, this is the one that potentially poses the biggest political danger for any of the main UK parties. David Cameron desperately needs to hold on to the seat to give a signal to his party that UKIP can be stopped and that their reach will only go so far.
Given this, Conservative HQ will be concerned by the polling conducted by Survation for the Mail on Sunday showing that UKIP are, as with Clacton, on course for a resounding victory next week.
As with Clacton again, having not stood in 2010, UKIP are now polling 40 per cent in the seat, ahead of the Conservatives who are on 31 per cent (down 18 per cent since 2010). Labour remain relatively stable on 25 per cent (down 3 per cent), with the Lib Dems nose divining to 2 per cent, down 14 per cent on their performance in the seat in 2010.
Given the personal animosity of the Tories toward Mark Reckless, if they wanted to accept any advice the polling suggests that making him the object of their fury during the rest of the campaign would be counterproduce, since just 12 per cent of voters in the seat indicated that they liked Reckless. In contrast, 70 per cent said they were motivated to vote UKIP because they liked the party and supported its policies.
The Conservatives will need to tackle UKIP’s message head on if they are to stand any chance of regaining the seat.
Indeed, UKIP’s support in the constituency is holding despite 35 per cent saying that Reckless defected for ‘self –serving political reasons’ and 31 per cent describing him as a ‘traitor’.
And asked what the most important issue affecting their vote would be, with the support of almost 29 per cent of those polled immigration came top of the agenda.
So, if the polls are to believed, Labour looks set to hold its seat in Heywood and Middleton this week, with the Conservatives set to lose both of theirs. Maybe there really could be reasons for Labour to be slightly more cheerful come next Friday.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.