Corby shows how a Lib Dem collapse will hurt the Tories

A fall in support for the Lib Dems will propel Labour to victory in Tory marginals.

One the most notable things about the result of the Corby by-election is the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. The party saw its share of the vote fall from 14.5 per cent to just 5 per cent as it was pushed into fourth place by Ukip, which won nearly three times as many votes (5,108 to 1,770).

Many of those who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 will have defected to Labour, which saw its vote increase by 9.8% to 48.4%, propelling the party to victory against the Conservatives. If this patten is repeated at the general election, the Tories stand to lose dozens of seats - there are 37 Conservative-Labour marginals where the third place Lib Dem vote is more than twice the margin of victory. Even if Nick Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour will make sweeping gains. In addition, while existing Lib Dem MPs, many of whom enjoy large local followings, are likely to benefit from an incumbency effect, it is the Tories, not Labour, who will suffer as a result - David Cameron's party is in second place in 38 of the Lib Dems' 57 seats.

If they are to stand any chance of winning a majority at the next election or even remaining the largest single party, the Tories need to hope for a Lib Dem recovery.

The Liberal Democrats lost their deposit in the Corby by-election after finishing fourth behind Ukip. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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