What if There Were a By-Election in Old Bexley and Sidcup?
Unlike Rod Crosby, I donâ€™t anticipate a by-election in this seat. However, itâ€™s worth giving some thought to what would happen if Derek Conway were to step down, and a by-election called.
The seat itself is a mighty Conservative stronghold. Conway had a majority of nearly 10,000 over Labour in 2005. In the local elections of 2006, the Conservatives won all 24 council seats in the constituency, and took 55% of the vote, compared to 17% for Labour, and 10% for the Liberal Democrats? So, a Conservative shoe-in? In all likelihood, not.
Firstly, the circumstances of the by-election would be bound to deliver a protest vote against the Conservative Party. Voters donâ€™t like unnecessary elections, and they like them even less when the outgoing MP or councillor has left under a cloud. Recently, the Conservatives have lost, or come close to losing, several council seats where the outgoing councillor has been involved in a scandal.
Secondly, the Liberal Democrats have shown they have the ability to harness that protest vote and squeeze the other opposition party time and again in by-elections. There are no Liberal Democrat councillors in this seat, and no record of Liberal Democrat success here. Yet, precisely the same was true of Brent East, in 2003, when the Liberal Democrats came from nowhere to win. In all likelihood, the Labour vote (27.5% in 2005) would collapse, as in Bromley and Chislehurst, possibly to as little as 10%. The bulk of that vote would go to the Liberal Democrats, who could expect, at the very least, a vote share of about 33%, rather than the 15% they won in 2005.
Thirdly, there is a significant radical right presence in this constituency. While I accept that UKIP are not the same sort of party as the BNP, there is no doubt that in London, both parties tend to poll well in the same areas. In 2005, they took more than 3,000 votes (7.3%) and in 2006, the two parties won 10% between them in the local elections, with the BNP performing particularly well in Falconwood and Welling. I would anticipate that both parties would take a combined share of at least 10% in a by-election. In all likelihood they would take more votes off the Conservatives than the Liberal Democrats.
So, if it comes to a by-election, by far the safest course of action for the Conservatives would be to treat this seat as a marginal, campaign accordingly, and go for the shortest possible campaign, before the Liberal Democrats can generate momentum.
There were just two by-elections on Thursday , both of them wins for the outgoing party.
North Lanarkshire, Scottish Unitary Authority: Kilsyth. Labour 1855, SNP 891, Green 66, Conservative 50, Scottish Socialist 48, Lib Dem 17. Labour hold. Vote shares were almost unchanged compared to 2007. This is an ex-mining area, which remains solid for Labour.
Kennet District, Upavon: Conservative 218, UKIP 106, LibDem 87 Green 38 Labour 27. Conservative hold. Itâ€™s unusual to see UKIP come second in a contest involving all three major parties, although they did better in 2007.
Note: This article was put back from its normal Friday publication because of the Mori opinion poll news.