Friday, 13 January 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 12/1/16, tributes, and on the political volatility of Stoke-on-Trent

Readers, the results from local by-elections that featured Green Party candidates this week (both of them) were as follows:

Sunderland MBC, Sandhill: Liberal Democrats 824 (45.0%, +41.5%), :Labour 458 (25.0%, -29.9%), UKIP 343 (18.7%, -7.2%), Conservative 184 (10.0%, -5.7%), Green 23 (1.3%).

Three Rivers DC, Gade Valley: Lib Dem 626 (60.9%, +24.0%), Con 196 (19.1%, -22.9%), Lab 119 (11.6%, -9.6%), UKIP 69 (6.7%), Green 18 (1.8%).

In the context of local by-elections, the Liberal Democrats' win of Sandhill, a traditionally Labour ward in Sunderland where the main competitor was briefly UKIP, and from last place, will go down as one of the biggest surprises, especially when the Liberal Democrats are still not faring that well in national opinion polls. It cannot merely be blamed on the fact that this local by-election happened when the previous Labour councillor was disqualified for lack of attendance (a councillor must attend at least one meeting every six months or lose their seat under the Local Government Act) or their loudspeaker tactics (no longer that effective in an age of modern politics). The Liberal Democrats' gain of Gade Valley was meanwhile a foregone conclusion (last year was the first time they had not won the seat in 25 years), but remarkable nevertheless for allowing them to gain overall control of Three Rivers District Council, which surrounds Watford Borough Council that they recaptured last year. In both cases, my Green colleagues found their vote relentlessly squeezed by said victorious Lib Dem councillors, as did other parties.

Renowned psephologist Professor Anthony King, who once did by-election analyses on Election Night Specials, has died, and as a psephologist I wish to pay tribute for the many analyses he did past and present. I also wish to pay tribute to former English football manager Graham Taylor, who has died aged 72. His ability to take clubs from medium towns and small cities like Watford and Lincoln through the Football League to take on such established metropolitan clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City alone puts him in English sports' history books. However, after he failed to get England to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, his fortunes quickly went south and he never recovered. In fact, a man named Peter Newman even used the description 'Sack Graham Taylor' in the 1993 Christchurch by-election, surprisingly getting as many as 80 votes.

Finally, Labour MP Tristram Hunt is resigning to become director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which will trigger a by-election in his constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central, which recorded the lowest turnout at the 2015 general election with a dismal 49.9%. Although all three Stoke-on-Trent seats have been held by Labour continuously since 1935, they can no longer be considered safe locally or nationally. Only 3 of Labour's 21 council seats in Stoke were won with over 50% of the vote in 2015, even those council seats not represented by Labour are usually marginal by any standards, and this was one of the few seats where a local Independent managed a good performance (6.8%). No Independent candidate has gained a seat at a parliamentary by-election since World War II, but with the City Independents still widely respected in Stoke, this by-election could potentially mark an Independent gain, particularly since the more socialist ideals of Jeremy Corbyn will not go down well in this former industrial hub of pottery and glass-making.

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