Ealing comedy?

Mark Pack enjoys the ins and out of the battle in Ealing Southall

It's rather appropriate that a by-election in Ealing, home of Ealing comedies, has been the site of a by-election that has frequently seemed on the edge of farce.

For the wider world, of course, perhaps the height of farce was the sight of the Tory candidate Tony Lit beaming with Tony Blair at a Labour event where a cheque for £4,800 was handed over (and a further auction bid of £4,000 was made) just before he became the Tory candidate (Mr Lit that is, not Mr Blair!). This story does at least mean that - thankfully, at last - we have a story to top the Liberal Democrat embarrassment from the 1990s of having a Parliamentary by-election candidate join Labour on polling day itself.

For political insiders, the arguments over Iain Dale's blog and whether he is letting himself be used as a largely uncritical mouthpiece by the Conservative Party have eaten up much blogging time.

An example of this was the attempt by the Conservatives to use Iain's blog to criticise the use of photographs by the Liberal Democrats. The attacks were rather blunted by the fact that on the very same day that Iain hit "publish" on the story on his blog, the Conservatives in Ealing were delivering a leaflet that did the very same thing that his story fulminated against.

As did - amongst others - previous Conservative Parliamentary by-election leaflets in Cheadle and Leicester South and ... wait for it ... a story Iain had penned on his very own blog a few days previously.

But what will it all mean when the voters are counted and tempers have settled? The downside of making predictions just ahead of polling day is that if you're wrong you look a fool, and if you're right - well, who really cares anyway given they've now got the actually results to pore over?

But as I volunteered for the task ... the projection from our weekend work made by Chris Rennard is that the state of parties was around Labour 37%, Lib Dem 31% and Conservative 22%. As he said, "From this position Lib Dems can win but it should be close. I believe that we could be into re-count territory on Thursday night."

Interestingly, he chose to make public these views in a comment on a blog, rather than to a journalists, which reflects the way the internet has been changing how politics works.

Given the eagerness of some politicians to write-up a "return to two party politics" story, for Nigel Bakhai and the Liberal Democrats to come even close to winning a seat off Labour, in the teeth of a determined Cameron New Conservative onslaught to boot, will be some achievement. An achievement all the greater of course if Nigel Bakhai wins.

As the first major electoral test for Gordon Brown, Ealing (and Sedgefield) are likely to be useful indicators as to how firmly rooted the "Brown bounce" in the opinion polls really is. Can intensive local campaigning by the Liberal Democrats still eat heavily into Labour's vote as happened in many places in 2005? And how well with the Conservative campaign message of "David Cameron wants this man to be your MP" go down?

All will be revealed shortly. As to my own personal prediction in the meantime? Well, working for a political party I find it generally safest to stick to keeping it a secret between me and my bookmaker.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.