Esther Rantzen fails to win seat in Luton South

That’s life (sorry, sorry, terrible joke) -- but what does Rantzen’s loss tell us about the rest of

Oh dear, poor Esther Rantzen.

Suffice it to say, she hasn't won in Luton South on her anti-politics ticket. (Was anyone ever quite sure what that meant? I mean, surely when you're sitting in the House of Commons, you'd have to come round to the whole politics thing a bit?) She polled fourth, behind Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems (which might, to some, look like the people of Luton have opted resoundingly for politics).

Reportedly, some in the Conservative camp believe that Esther's modest 4.4 per cent share of the vote may have eaten into their support (it was a close race, the Tories gaining 29.4 per cent to Labour's 34.9 per cent). This is interesting, as Luton South is a bellwether seat -- in every election since 1951, the MP elected in Luton South has gone on to become part of the government of the UK.

Should the Tories be quaking in their boots at the Labour government this portends? Well . . . probably not, particularly as those close results could have been closer still, or even a Tory win (though there's no solid evidence for it), were it not for that dastardly Rantzen. But wouldn't it have been fun if she'd won and we could have looked forward to the People's Government of Esther!

On a serious note -- Nick Robinson pointed out on the BBC that the televised debates drew attention away from all the other races in the election, focusing everything on the three men at the top. This means that Rantzen didn't get much media attention, unlike other notable independent candidates such as Martin Bell.

It's also a sign that expenses tainted individual MPs rather than parties. Margaret Moran stood down in the constituency and the electorate did not penalise her party.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

0800 7318496