Will a lost deposit be what next Thursday is remembered for?
At the PB party last night I was repeatedly asked about Ladbrokes’s market on whether Labour will lose its deposit in the Henley by election next Thursday. The price has now tightened to 8/13 and even at that level I think it is a good bet.
Over the years the Labour has been squeezed dramatically in by-elections that have been seen as a straight Conservative-Lib Dem fight. In 1993, in the year after Black Wednesday, while the party was rising high in the polls it saw, see above, lost deposits in Newbury and Christchurch.
In this parliament Labour experienced a massive collapse at Bromley just two years ago when Blair’s then party slipped from second to third place and dropped from 22.2% to 6.6%. At that point Labour was just 3% behind the Tories in the polls coming in at a respectable 34%.
At Henley in 2005 Labour got 14.7% of the vote so a decline on the scale of Bromley would see it well below the 5% mark required to save its deposit. The 2-3% experienced at Newbury and Christchurch is not impossible which would reinforce the narrative of Labour’s decline under Brown.
All of this leads me to question Labour’s decision not to fight Haltemprice and Howden where, in the absence of a Lib Dem contender, Labour would surely have increased its 12.7% general election vote share. This could have been presented as a good counter to the likely Henley disaster.
This is providing ammunition for the growing Tory rhetoric of Brown bottling it whenever he might have had to face the voters. The non-general election of November 2007, an EU treaty referendum and now H&H all add up to something that the opposition can exploit – especially, as we will be reminded, of the extraordinary lengths Brown went to last year to avoid having to fight a leadership election.