Labour vote rises as it holds Manchester Central and Cardiff South

The party comfortably won both by-elections on an increased share of the vote, while the Tories lost their deposit in Manchester.

There was never any doubt that Labour would win the Manchester Central and Cardiff South by-elections, both constituencies having returned Labour MPs for decades, but the party will still be pleased that it managed to increase its margin of victory in each.

In Manchester, its share of the vote rose by 16.4 per cent to 69.1 per cent, with a swing from the Lib Dems of 16.8 per cent. It was a bad night for the Tories, who came within five votes of being beaten by Ukip and who lost their deposit as they received just 4.5 per cent of the vote, their lowest ever in the seat. All parties, however, will be disappointed by the turnout, which at 18.16 per cent was the lowest in any by-election since the Second World War.

In Cardiff,  Labour's share of the vote rose by 8.4 per cent to 47.3 per cent, with a swing from the Tories of 8.41 per cent, in line with that currently shown by the national opinion polls. Turnout was higher than in Manchester at 25.35 per cent.

Attention will now move to Corby, which Labour is expected to gain from the Tories, and the first-ever police and crime commissioner elections. Early signs suggest that turnout in the latter could fall to a new record low for a national election, with as few as 15 per cent of eligible voters taking part. The ignominious record is currently held by the 1999 EU Parliament election in which 23 per cent voted. With most police areas not due to begin counting until later this morning, we've just one result so far, with the Tories, as expected, winning Wiltshire. Turnout was a dismal 16 per cent.

We'll have full coverage of the PCC elections and the Corby by-election, where a result is expected around 1pm, on The Staggers.

Here are the two by-election results in full.

Manchester Central by-election

Labour 11,507 votes 69.1% (+16.4%)

Liberal Democrats 1,571 votes 9.4% (-17.2%)

Conservative 754 votes 4.5% (-7.3%)

UK Independence Party 749 votes 4.5% (+3%)

Green Party 652 votes 3.9% (+1.6%)

British National Party 492 votes 3% (-1.1%)

Pirate Party 308 votes 1.9% (N/A)

Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition 220 votes 1.3% (N/A)

Respect 182 votes 1.1% (N/A)

Monster Raving Loony 78 votes 0.5% (N/A)

People's Democratic Party 71 votes 0.4% (N/A)

Communist League 64 votes 0.4% (N/A)

 

Labour majority 9,936 (59.7%)

Turnout 16,648 (18.2%)

 

Cardiff South and Penarth by-election

Labour 9,193 votes 47.3% (+8.4%)

Conservative 3,859 votes 19.9% (-8.4%)

Liberal Democrats 2,103 votes 10.8% (-11.5%)

Plaid Cymru 1,854 votes 9.5% (+5.3%)

UK Independence Party 1,179 votes 6.1% (+3.5%)

Green Party 800 votes 4.1% (+2.9%)

Socialist Labour Party 235 votes 1.2% (N/A)

Communist Party 213 votes 1.1% (+0.7%)

 

Labour majority 5,334 (27.4%)

Turnout 19,436 (25.35%)

Labour leader Ed Miliband walks through Hyde Park after addressing TUC members earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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