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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.