Labour set for a landslide victory in Corby by-election

A new poll gives Ed Miliband's party a 22-point lead in Louise Mensch's former constituency.

When I suggested, following Louise Mensch's resignation, that Labour would walk to victory in the Corby by-election, the party's deputy chair Tom Watson cast doubt on my prediction, insisting that "Corby will be a very tough fight".

But Watson needn't have managed expectations. With just over three weeks to go until polling day on 15 November, Lord Ashcroft's second poll of voters in the constituency, conducted for ConservativeHome, suggests that Labour is on course for a landslide victory. Since Ashcroft's last survey, the party's lead over the Tories has risen by seven to 22 points, with Labour on 54 per cent (up from 39 per cent at the general election) and the Conservatives on 32 per cent (down from 42 per cent).

As Tim Montgomerie suggests, the poll is notable for demonstrating how a collapse in the Lib Dem vote at the next election could hurt the Tories the most. Support for the party in Corby has plummeted from 15 per cent in 2010 to just five per cent now, with the bulk of Lib Dem supporters defecting to Labour. If this trend is replicated in other seats, Ed Miliband's party can expect to pick up dozens of Con-Lab marginals. While the Tories are in second place in most Lib Dem seats (38 compared to 17 for Labour), they will struggle to make gains if, as expected, the Lib Dems benefit from an incumbency effect (the party's MPs are famed for their constituency work).

But for Labour, the omens are more encouraging. In seats where it is within touching distance of the Tories (and even some where it is not), a collapse in support for the third-placed Lib Dems will likely propel it into first place.

Ed Miliband walks through Hyde Park after addressing TUC members at an anti-austerity rally. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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