Friday, February 10, 2006
What Does the LibDem By-Election Victory Mean?
Firstly, congratulations to Willie Rennie (despite his particualrly ungracious victory speech). There's no doubt about it, the LibDems scored a dramatic victory last night in the Dunfermline by-election. I don't think even they were expecting it until possibly the last minute. It is doubly astonishing given the terrible press they have had over the last month. I have to admit I didn't give them a prayer. In fact, they are the only people to have emerged from it well. The SNP normally do very well in by-elections during Labour governments, but the existence of the Scottish Parliament has rather spiked their guns. The big loser was undoubtedly Gordon Brown. There will be some on the Labour benches who think, well if we can't win in Gordon's back yard can we win in mine with him as leader? I also wouldn't want to be Tony Blair this weekend when he makes his speech to the Labour Spring conference in Blackpool. So what does it mean for the Conservatives? Well, for the vote to go down from 10% to 7.8% isn't good and is probably explained in part by the controversy over the local candidate and Council group leader Stuart Randall not even making the selection shortlist. I don't think many of us expected the Cameron effect to sweep the electorate in Dunfermline, but for those who believe that everything is suddenly rosy in the Conservative garden, it will have been a bit of a shock. Personally, I don't think much can be read into it. The LibDems are past masters at persuading all those who don't like Labour that they are the only ones who can defeat them and I suspect that this accounts for part of the reduction in the Tory vote. But let's not kid ourselves. The Conservatives need to think about what will happen if there's a by-election in a Labour marginal in a rural area. Just how do they convince the electorate that it is they who are best placed to oust Labour, rather than the LibDems? To be frank, we haven't fought a good by-election campaign since, well, I honestly can't remember. I understand a special by-election unit was set up recently. I hope it is going to be given the campaigning resources it will need, because although we all say by-elections don't matter, the way they are fought sends out important signals to party workers about how the Party is geared up to fight a national election. It's important that when the next by-election occurs in an English seat with a good Conservative vote, the Party is fully prepared to fight it.