So, another day, another pair of Parliamentary by-elections over, and – courtesy of Ealing Southall in particular - an extra large supply of campaign anecdotes to add to my store. But what does it all mean?
Clearly Labour members and supporters will like having held both seats, but with their majorities halved in both the results rather puncture the Brown Bounce hyperbole about him taking back all the support Labour lost to the Liberal Democrats.
The fall in Labour’s support in Ealing Southall is particularly interesting, because this is just the sort of seat where the Liberal Democrats have performed poorly in the past, but got a respectable second in 2005 fuelled largely by the Iraq war. In other words, it is just the sort of seat where a new look Gordon Brown Labour party, hoping to leave its troubles behind, should be making up previously lost ground.
That the Liberal Democrats actually made further advances is a promising sign for the next general election being one of more gains from Labour rather than one of just trying to cling on to what we’ve already got.
Beginning to pick over the electoral figures, it looks as if we did very well in the Ealing part of the constituency and really rather less so in Southall. This split shows that the party still has work to do in order to build up levels of support amongst particular communities, though the party’s overall ability to win votes from ethnic minority communities has been transformed compared with – for example – the 2000 by-election in Tottenham.
I worked on that campaign, and am struck by the pleasing contrast with how the Ealing campaign had a much more diverse team of helpers, evidenced from the simplest signs in photographs of people helping in HQ through to the practical benefits of being able to produce translations in a wide-range of languages.
Judging the party’s mode from messages received by email at the Ealing and national party HQs so far today, members and supporters are pretty cheerful about the results. Indeed, as the dust has started to settle as today has worn on, and I’ve started catching up on sleep and media coverage, the results in Ealing and Sedgefield are steadily getting (even) better in my mind as it is becoming clear that the brace of second places – and in particular the flop of the much-hyped Tory Ealing Southall campaign – is causing large scale ructions in the Conservative party. Conservative Home [http://www.conservativehome.blogs.com/] is a fun read at the moment!
Aside from the internal ructions, the Conservatives are likely to have also done themselves severe damage with the media, for once again they suckered some journalists into reporting a Labour – Lib Dem contest as if it was really a Labour – Tory one. With a bit of luck, a few more journalists will finally be rather more wise to the “pssst, want some dodgy postal vote figures?” type wheezes, especially as this was a repeat of what was done in Leicester South – where again there were reports of the postal votes showing the Lib Dems out of it, but when the votes were counted Tories finished third.
All in all then, whilst winning is always best, the results in Sedgefield and Ealing are cause for satisfaction amongst Liberal Democrats. Two good sets of swings, two good second places and two other parties whose results raise serious questions about their future.