Election 2010 Lookahead: Friday 23 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

With another 15 days to go in this election campaign, here is what is happening today:

Labour

Recovering from last night's debate Gordon Brown will hold a press conference alongside Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Deputy Labour Party leader and Equality Minister Harriet Harman in central London (9.45am). Labour candidate Sam Townend will debate with Charlotte Leslie (Conservative) and Paul Harrod (Liberal Democrat) in a City-centre debate for the three-way marginal constituency of Bristol North West at College Green, Bristol (12.30pm).

Conservatives

Conservative candidate Charlotte Leslie will take part in a debate with Sam Townend (Labour) and Paul Harrod (Liberal Democrat) for the three-way marginal constituency of Bristol North West at College Green, Bristol (12.30pm). David Cameron will face a grilling from Jeremy Paxman later on this evening (See below).

Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg returns to the campaign trail, visiting Newcastle Aviation Academy in Woolsington with Lib Dem candidate for Newcastle North Ron Beadle (11am) before heading south to meet staff at Morrison's supermarket on Albion Way in Norwich with Lib Dem candidate for Norwich South Simon Wright (2.30pm). Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat candidate Paul Harrod will debate with Sam Townend (Labour) and Charlotte Leslie (Conservative Party) in a City-centre debate for the three-way marginal constituency of Bristol North West at College Green, Bristol (12.30pm).

In The Media

BBC Radio 4's Today Programme included interviews with representatives of the BNP, UKIP, Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru following yesterday evening's televised election leaders' debate. Nihal's Asian Network Election Special (1pm) on BBC Asian Network will feature a panel of politicians from the three main parties: Ajmal Masroor (Liberal Democrats), Priti Patel (Conservative Party), and Transport Minister Sadiq Khan (Labour Party). David Cameron gets the Jeremy Paxman treatment tonight when he is grilled by the veteran political broadcaster for a BBC election special, Jeremy Paxman Interviews: David Cameron, (8.30pm).

Other parties

The BNP will reportedly launch its 2010 general election manifesto in Stoke-on-Trent today. Party leader Nick Griffin is currently standing for election in Barking on against Labour Party incumbent Margaret Hodge.

Away from the campaign

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.