A very bad night for the Lib Dems in Scotland

The Lib Dems lose their deposit after winning just 2.2 per cent of the vote in the Inverclyde by-ele

Despite talk of the SNP pulling off a shock defeat, Labour was always likely to win last night's Inverclyde by-election. In the end, the party's margin of victory - 5,838 votes - was greater than many activists expected, and Ed Miliband can celebrate his fourth consecutive by-election win this morning.

The SNP, who came within 511 votes of capturing the sister seat in last month's Scottish Parliament elections, were hopeful of victory but Labour's majority of 14,416 proved too great to overturn. It's further evidence that while Alex Salmond has established the SNP as the natural party of devolved government, Labour is still the party of choice in Westminster elections.

The other noteworthy thing about last night was the disastrous performance of the Lib Dems. Their share of the vote plummeted from 13.3 per cent to 2.2 per cent, losing the party its deposit, and they were pushed into fourth place by the Tories. Sophie Bridger, the Lib Dem candidate, won just 627 votes on a respectable turnout of 45.4 per cent, only 339 more than the Ukip candidate, Mitch Sorbie.

The recriminations have already begun, with the Scottish party attributing its defeat to Nick Clegg's toxic reputation. As the former MSP Ross Finney commented: "There were clear issues of trust in the leadership". Expect to see the Scottish Lib Dems do even more to differentiate themselves from the national leadership over the coming months.

The result in full

Iain McKenzie (Lab) 15,118 (53.8%, -2.2%)

Anne McLaughlin (SNP) 9.280 (33%, +15.5%)

David Wilson (Con) 2,784 (9.9%, -2.1%)

Sophie Bridger (LD) 627 (2.2%, -11.1%)

Mitch Sorbie (UKIP) 288 (1%, -0.2%)

Labour majority: 5,838 (20.8%, -17.6%)

Turnout: 28,097 (45.4%, -18%)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.