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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.