Is Any Other Party worth a bet for South Shields?

Is Any Other Party worth a bet for South Shields?

Rather than a Bradford West – maybe a Blaenau Gwent?

The South Shields by-election ought to be as close to a certainty as it’s possible to get as by-elections go.  With Labour the sole main party of opposition, in a seat that they’ve held since 1935 where they’re defending a majority of more than eleven thousand secured on a poor national share, it should be no contest.

Unlike Eastleigh, South Shields is also short of any other party with clear strength.  The Conservatives and Lib Dems will obviously go backwards on national trends and, if the local elections there are anything to go by, on very patchy presence on the ground.  The fourth party in 2010 was the BNP, who retained their deposit, but they’ve imploded spectacularly since.

Perhaps surprisingly given that it was the foreign secretary’s seat at the time, South Shields was one of the few English constituencies UKIP didn’t even contest the 2010 election.  They didn’t stand in any of the wards in last year’s local elections either.  While local organisation isn’t everything, it probably is a necessary factor for any party aiming to gain a seat as dyed-in-the-wool as this one.  Given the probable line-up and current political landscape, UKIP could probably finish second on protest votes alone but they’ll be some considerable way back from Labour.

So, if none of the obvious parties bar Labour could win it, how about one that isn’t obvious, or a candidate representing none of them at all?  The definition of ‘Any Other’ varies between bookies or markets but in all cases incorporates Independents and is available at 100/1 upwards.  To my mind, this is probably the most likely non-Labour winner.

Labour has already lost one by-election this parliament to an ‘Any Other’ candidate but South Shields is a very different place from Bradford West and we should put that comparison aside.  A better parallel might be Blaenau Gwent.  As is normal for Labour in by-elections, the candidate will be chosen by the NEC.  If it’s sensible, it will choose a local candidate and all will go boringly smoothly.  If it doesn’t, things become more interesting.

Two points to note here: Miliband only became candidate and subsequently MP in the first place because David Clark stood down very late in the parliament, so cutting the constituency out of the selection process.  It was not popular and to impose an outsider again would be even less popular.  Secondly, while Labour doesn’t have any major party opposition in the constituency, they have been run close by several independents in local elections: there might be an antipathy to other established parties but it’s no longer rosette-on-a-donkey country.

All of which points to 100/1 for Any Other being value.  We are in the realms of multiple contingencies but then that’s usually the case for long-odds bets.  The NEC probably will select a credible local candidate.  Even if they don’t, there’s no guarantee there’ll be a Blaenau Gwent-style nominal Independent but really Local Labour candidate.  Even if there is, there’s no guarantee they’d win (though they would vacuum up the protest votes – in such a situation, UKIP would poll much more poorly than in a straight party fight).  Still, stranger things have happened.

David Herdson

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