Can the Tories end their 23 year old by-election famine?
Unless you aspire to be in the higher echelons of political anoraks you can be excused for not knowing that today is the 23rd anniversary of the last occasion when the Tories won a seat from another party in a Westminster by-election.
For you have to go right back to Thursday June 3 1982 – three years into Mrs. Thatcher’s first term – to find a Tory by-election gain. That contest – at Merton, Mitcham and Morden – took place in the rarefied political atmosphere of the Falklands War when the big domestic development until a month or so before had been the emergence of the “Gang of Four” and the development of the SDP.
In the following years the Tories won three further General Elections before losing three to Labour. For large parts of this period, whether in Government or opposition, the party was hard pressed to hold its own seats in by-elections never mind win one off another party.
Now with the prospect of the contest in Cheadle the question is whether on June 3rd 2006 we will be marking the 24th birthday of this by-election. Will the famine will continue or can, under a new leader, they change the habit of nearly a quarter of a century and score a victory?
On the face of it Cheadle should be promising territory. With a Lib Dem majority in 2001 of just 33 votes it was right at the top of the Tory hit list. Yet they failed to do it due largely to a huge tactical switch from Labour the Charles Kennedy’s party. In 2001 Labour got 14% of the vote there – four weeks ago the party chalked up just 8.8% of the vote.
In the years since 1982 the Lib Dems and its predecessor parties have chalked up a long list of victories against the Tories. Could it now work the other way round? Given that the Tories have absolutely no by-election form it’s a brave punter who bets on them winning.