Two heartland seats: two more Oldhams?
There are two parliamentary by-elections tomorrow. Normally, this would be cause for a good deal of media interest: it’s rare for two or more by-elections to take place on the same day (only the tenth occasion since 1997). However, the sheer quantity of other contests occurring has relegated what ought to be routine holds for Labour in Ogmore and in Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough so far down the pecking order as to be near-invisible.
And they ought to be very comfortable holds. These are the epitome of heartland seats. Not only has Ogmore returned Labour MPs at every election since the constituency was created in 1918 but never has the Labour candidate received less than half the vote (other than the four occasions when no vote took place because Labour was returned unopposed, between the wars). The Sheffield seat is of more recent vintage but both it and its predecessors have also returned Labour MPs since 1935, with Harry Harpham winning 56.6% in 2015.
So nothing to worry about for Labour then? You would assume not given the complete lack of noise from any potential insurgent party. UKIP, who might be best placed to mount a challenge, have their hands full at the moment focussing on the Welsh Assembly, the EU Referendum and internal conflict. UKIP were a clear second in Sheffield B&H in 2015 with slightly more than double the Conservative share, but still more than 30% back. Their starting point in Ogmore – third, just behind the Conservatives and close to 40% behind Labour – is even less prospitious.
Oldham West & Royton has no doubt tempered thoughts of a shock. There, UKIP was talked up only for Labour to then romp home. Despite Labour’s bad week, and the concerns of Corbyn’s Labour not necessarily being those of industrial Yorkshire or the Valleys of Wales, the red flag should continue to fly high there.
What of the other parties? The Lib Dems lost their deposit in both seats in 2015 and must be at risk of doing so again given the state of the opinion polls. The Conservatives shouldn’t fall that low but with no government at stake and with a potential pro-UKIP tactical squeeze it would be a surprise if either seat returned a double-digit vote share. UKIP will hope to finish second in both, and should do so. The unremarkableness of that expectation is a measure of how far they’ve progressed in five years.
But just as the campaigns have gone unnoticed, so, in all probability, will the results be blotted out by much more dramatic results elsewhere in the UK. Probably.