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.

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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide