Do you know when the Tories last won a seat from another party in a by-election?
It’s a reflection of the Tory’s appalling performance at parliamentary by-elections over the decades that the only people who might know the answer to this are the “political anoraks”. Sadly we are part of that group!
You have to go back to June 3 1982, in the raified political atmosphere of the Falklands War, for the Merton, Mitcham and Morden by-election which was won by the Tories – the last time they have taken a seat from another party in a Westminster by-election.
That’s a generation and a half ago and the party has simply got out of the habit. For whatever their national standings, and they did get 38% of the votes in the local elections last month, it’s very hard to envisage the circumstances in which they could take a seat.
For next week’s Leicester and Birmingham by-elections William Hill have markets on both available online Prices have shifted during the day and the Lib Dems are now 10/11 favourite in Leicester.
On the face of it the Tory odds might be attractive. They should be in with a good chance with at least one of the by-elections next week and you might be tempted. But such a period of failure and the lack of expertise at fighting and winning by-elections should cause you to pause. For with the special skills required you have to go with the party in form.
The Lib Dems have developed fighting by-elections into an art form – particuarly in areas like Leicester South where they have a strong local government base. They’ve got hundreds of volunteers, years of experience of knowing what messages work with the electorate in these situations, and they’ve got the sure-footedness that repeated successes bring. In additition their national support, beating Labour for second place in the local elections on June 10, means they are on a high.
It is hard to call anything other than the Lib Dems. Maybe the Tories will force Labour into third place? Maybe not!