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22 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:10am

What do last night’s by-elections mean for the Lib Dems?

Scattered by-elections last night show voters appearing to coalesce along north-south lines.

By Rob Higson

Labour’s loss of the mayoral seat in Tower Hamlets wasn’t the only result from last night that we should pay attention to. There was also an above-average number of by-elections – 13 in total – across the UK last night.

Coming so soon after the Comprehensive Spending Review, the results are worth looking at.

The headline result came from Sheffield in the Manor Castle by-election. Here, Labour held the seat with 75.7 per cent of the vote. The Greens doubled their vote (since May) and the Lib Dems suffered a crushing 17.5 per cent swing away from them to Labour.

The Labour MP for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, has since suggested:

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On the day after the Comprehensive Spending Review, Nick Clegg has been sent a very clear message from my constituency in the heart of Sheffield. This is a fantastic result for Labour and a devastating result for the Lib Dems. People are angry about this government’s attack on jobs, housing and local services.

Though this was not exactly in the Deputy Prime Minister’s constituency, and perhaps not quite “devastating”, Clegg must be a little worried with such a swing away so close to his own patch.

In Swansea, in the Newton ward, the Conservatives won with an 18.7 per cent swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories.

In Oxford City Council, in the Barton and Sandhills by-election, Labour won the seat, previously held by the Liberal Democrats, with a majority of 503. There was a 9.9 per cent swing away from the Lib Dems.

In a Labour stronghold in Bassetlaw (Harworth ward), Labour increased their majority of the vote to 82 per cent, up from 72 per cent at the 2007 district elections, with a slight increase in turnout. With this result, the Tories have lost control of Bassetlaw District Council.

In Kent, Labour also gained the River ward in the Medway Council by-election from the Conservatives, recording a 4.9 per cent swing to Labour.

However, the results weren’t all doom and gloom for the Liberal Democrats.

In Hampshire, the Conservatives held the Andover South ward, with a 12 per cent swing to the Lib Dems.

In Surrey, in the Capel, Leigh and Newdigate ward of Mole Valley District Council, the Lib Dems won with a 5.4 per cent swing away from the Conservatives.

Of course, it’s not always wise to try to read the tea leaves of scattered by-election results; local issues and personalities are always more likely be key determinants behind the figures.

Yet the fact that the Lib Dems performed poorly in northern or marginal areas (Oxford something of an urban exception) and given dismal poll ratings – 13 per cent not so long after the general election and now 10 per cent – it must be making a few northern Lib Dem MPs slightly nervous.

The full results are listed below:

  • Bassetlaw Borough – Harworth: Lab 1345, C 182, Ind 68, Lib Dem 39. (May 2010 – Lab 2345, C 891). Lab hold. Swing 13.1% C to Lab.
  • Chiltern District – Ashley Green, Latimer and Chenies: C 399, Lib Dem 92, Lab 47, Ukip 11. (May 2007 – C 501, Lib Dem 113, Lab 52). C hold. Swing 1.1% C to Lib Dem.
  • Chiltern District – Great Missenden: C 306, Lib Dem 281, Ukip 90. (May 2007 – C 536, Lib Dem 214). C hold. Swing 19.6% C to Lib Dem.
  • East Staffordshire Borough – Abbey: C 604, Lab 84. (May 2007 – C 865, Lab 135). C hold. Swing 1.3% Lab to C.
  • Elmbridge Borough – Hersham North: C 463, Ind 453, Lab 135. (May 2010 – C 1450, Lib Dem 661, Lab 458, Ind 320). C hold. Swing 1.5% C to Lab.
  • Elmbridge Borough – St Georges Hill: Ind 515, C 412, Lab 36. (May 2010 – C 1467, Ind 1031, Lib Dem 361, Lab 207). Ind hold. Swing 0.9% C to Lab.
  • Hampshire County – Andover South: C 1183, Lib Dem 1111, Lab 245, Ukip 233. (May 2009 – C 2102, Lib Dem 961, Ukip 916, Lab 303). C hold. Swing 12% C to Lib Dem.
  • Medway Borough – River: Lab 695, C 631, Lib Dem 92, Ukip 42, Green 36, English Democrats 31. (May 2007 – Two seats Lab 791, C 770, Lab 712, C 660, Lib Dem 161, Ukip 131, Lib Dem 127, Medway Ind Party 119; August 12 2010 by-election – C 617, Lab 544, Lib Dem 104, Green 45, BNP 39, English Democrats 33). Lab gain from C. Swing 1.1% C to Lab.
  • Mendip District – Ashwick, Chilcompton and Stratton: C 491, Lib Dem 440, Lab 111, Green 46. (May 2007 – Two seats C 791, 719, Lib Dem 374, 300, Lab 188, 162). C hold. Swing 14.1% C to Lib Dem.
  • Mole Valley District – Capel, Leigh and Newdigate: Lib Dem 618, C 558, Ukip 97, Green 61. (May 2010 – C 1193, Lib Dem 1034, Ukip 169, Green 112). Lib Dem gain from C. Swing 5.4% C to Lib Dem.
  • Oxford City – Barton and Sandhills: Lab 837, Lib Dem 334, Green 119, C 86, Ukip 48, Ind 42. (May 2010 – Lab 1239, Lib Dem 815, C 661, Green 188). Lab gain from Lib Dem. Swing 9.8% Lib Dem to Lab.
  • Sheffield City – Manor Castle: Lab 2092, Lib Dem 303, Green 224, C 142. (May 2010 – Lab 3371, Lib Dem 1552, BNP 465, C 438, Green 260). Lab hold. Swing 17.4% Lib Dem to Lab.
  • Swansea City – Newton: C 545, Lib Dem 299, Lab 187, Ind 108, Plaid Cymru 31. (May 2008 – Lib Dem 718, C 497, Green 115). C gain from Lib Dem. Swing 18.8% Lib Dem to C.


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