What general election pointers should we be looking for?
We’ve had quite a few by elections in this parliament but most have been largely irrelevant in what they say about the Tory-Labour battle that will determine the general election.
Tomorrow at Norwich North it’s different. This is a seat that the Tories should pick up relatively easily if they want to maintain their general election expectations – but what do we mean by “relatively easily“?
Interestingly the Westminster voting intention polls now are in about the same sort of territory that they were just before the Tory Crewe and Nantwich by election victory in May 2008. In fact the final national survey before that election, from ICM, had a CON-LAB split of 41%-27% – exactly what we saw the same pollster last week.
In the aftermath of C&N I argued that looking at a by election outcome solely in terms of percentage changes can often distort what’s happened simply because turnouts can vary so much. There I suggested that the key figures were the uplift in the Tory vote to 20,539 from 14,162 in an election and the turnout which was not that far short of general election levels.
So should we be looking for a C&N type result tomorrow – an increase in the Tory vote from the May 2005 figure 15,638 to nearly half as much again at more than 22,000.
If they are getting to that level or thereabouts then the C&N momentum is still there and it will be hard to argue other than Cameron is, in that awful phrase that has become so fashionable, “sealing the deal”.
Of course to poll that number of votes turnout would need to be at 55% or more – not too far off the 61% that was achieved at the general election. This of itself would be a good measure of the desire for change. My target here might be challenging given the election is during the school holidays – but the party machines have had lots of time to secure postal and proxy votes.
Now I realise I might be accused of setting the bar too high for the Tories but we do need to see that C&N was not a fluke result. Certainly any Tory total above 20,000 would be really excellent for the party but 22,000 would suggest the Cameron band-wagon is becoming unstoppable.
This was the outcome in Norwich North on May 5th 2005:
Conservative: 15638 (33.2%)
Labour: 21097 (44.9%)
Liberal Democrat: 7616 (16.2%)
Green: 1252 (2.7%)
UKIP: 1122 (2.4%)
Other: 308 (0.7%)
Majority: 5459 (11.6%)
The odds on the Tories are now so tight that the big betting interest is on the Green – Lib Dem battle and whether Labour can remain in the top two.