Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ealing Southall

So, polling day. While the bye election at Sedgefield has rather passed under the radar (with a Labour majority of 18,000 there's not much excitement at the possibility of a shock) the same definitely cannot be said about Ealing Southall. The results will be fascinating for what they say about the elctoral prospects of all three parties, and a further twist has been added by the, presumably unwitting, breach of electoral law by Jonathon Isaby for the Telegraph (where he revealed, via a Tory source, the estimated breakdown of the postal vote shares).
The Tories have, other than this, run an aggressive campaign marked by a good choice of local candidate Tony Lit. There has been a lot of play made of two factors: that Lit is a recent convert to the Conservative Party, and that a matter of weeks ago he was a 'Labour Party donor'. The first is irrelevant really: Lit's a member now and, as Matthew Parris once argued, a long history of affiliation to the Tory Party really ought to act as a barrier to becoming an MP. The second is more interesting: photos of Lit next to a grinning Tony Blair looked pretty bad. Yet again there's less to this than meets the eye. The event was not only a fundraiser but a high-profile local event. Tony Lit didn't give the money personally, but the radio station he was at the time a director of did.
Tom Watson, the bruising Labour MP who has been given the running of the Labour campaign, has focused on Lit's perceived flaws as the centre of his strategy. His blog has highlighted such earth-shattering information as the fact that 'Tony' isn't Mr Lit's real name, that some of his directorships use variations on his real name, and that, um, a Conservative club is looking a bit tatty. In the last election Watson ran, Birmingham Hodge Hill, he followed a similar tactic:
At Birmingham Hodge Hill in July 2004 he sought to destroy the Lib Dem challenger by making Labour single election idea the fact the their opponent worked for a mobile phone company which was then involved in controversial issues over the location of masts.
The result that time?
In the very low turnout election at Hodge Hill Labour’s vote dropped by 27.4% and the Lib Dems went up by 26.1%. This is one of the biggest LAB>LD swings on record.
If Watson manages to stuff up Southall, on conventional wisdom a safe Labour seat, he might find Brown a little less smily that he was after Watson organised that little copu d'etat in the autumn of last year.
As for the Lib Dems, they've run the sort of campaign that they always do ('Only Lib Dems can win here...') but don't seem to have caught fire this time round. It's never sensible to write them off (remember Dunfermline?) but it seems that they might just have missed the bus on this one.
So what will it mean? For Labour anything other than an easy hold will be a bad result. The 'Brown bounce' should mean that they win bye elections easily, especially in safe seats. A close victory will make Brown think more defensively about an early General Election, even though this is the best chance he has of winning. For the Conservatives a strong showing would be very welcome indeed. It would bolster Cameron, rattle Brown and restore the momentum behind the Tories. The only negative would be the effect it had on the Lib Dems. If they finish third, it might be the end of the line for Ming Campbell. He looks tired, old and out of touch. This is probably unfair, but once that perception takes hold it can be very difficult to shift. Third place in Southall could mean defenstration. If that means Nick Clegg then Brown can have something to smile about, even if Labour loses.

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