Can Labour hold on? Can the Tories show that they are on the way back? Can the Lib Dems jump from third to first? When will the betting markets open?
This weekend huge numbers of Tory, Lib Dem and Labour party activists from all over the country will be heading for Leicester South where the parliamentary by-election has been set for July 15. Michael Howard has already become a frequent visitor.
This will be a tough three-way fight and the outcome could have a big effect on UK politics in the countdown to the General Election. The Tory and Lib Dem campaigns have been made harder by the decision to to hold on the same day as the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election – a seat where Labour was in an even stronger position in 2001.
The bookmakers have yet to open up markets but we are sure that they will because this is a seat where there will be a huge amount of betting interest – not least from the party activists themselves. This is how the votes split in 2001.
LAB 54.5% : CON 23% : LIB 17.2%
The Case for Labour is that at the last General Election they held it with a huge majority; they have a popular and very well-known former leader of the city council as candidate; and the opposition to them could be split between the Lib Dems and the Tories. CHANCES OF WINNING 30%.
The Case for the Conservatives is that they have won the seat before – by just seven votes in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide General Election victory in 1983. They were well ahead of the Lib Dems at the General Election; they are 4% ahead of Labour in the national opinion polls and the party organisation has been rejuvenated under Michael Howard who is putting his reputation on the line with this fight. But they have no by-election “form” and even the most ardent loyalist would find it hard to tell you when they last gained a seat. CHANCES OF WINNING 25%.
The Case for the Lib Dems is that they won 46% of the votes in the local elections there last year which reflects a good organisation. This will make it much easier to present themselves as the only way of beating Labour – the standard Lib Dem stategy. One prediction’s for sure – their leaflets will present the election as a “two horse race” – it’s worked before so why should it not work this time? The Lib Dem opposition to the Iraq war has made them them popular within the large Muslim communities; and when it comes to fighting by-elections they are by far and away the “form” party. CHANCES OF WINNING 45%.
And the United Kingdon Independence Party? CHANCES OF WINNING 0%. Strangely it won’t be fielding a candidate even though Leicester South is within the East Midlands – the region where it had its best performance in the Euro Elections. Lack of money is blamed – which seems odd, as the commentator Anthony Wells has pointed out, given that the party leader, Roger Knapman said this week that they “had a financial warchest unparalleled in British history“. Maybe they don’t want to risk coming in a poor fourth that would take the gloss of their Euro Election performance. But getting 10% of the vote, surely, would still have kept them on the map?