Friday, 13 August 2010

Tories gain their first Council seat off Labour since the GE

There was only one by-election last night and it was for the River Ward on Medway UA (Kent). The vacancy arose because the Labour Councillor Bill Esterson was successfully elected as an MP on Merseyside. With the Conservatives needing just a 0.6% swing to take the seat it looked set to be a tight battle. The Labour candidate John Jones received a welcome boost to his campaign when Ed Miliband stopped by for a photo-op. But the appearance of the Labour Leadership contender didn't prevent the new Conservative Cllr. David Craggs securing a 3.2% swing to gain the seat by 73 votes. This was the first time they have managed to gain a seat off Labour since the May General Election, which comes at the end of a poor summer of local election results for the Conservatives. The Tories already enjoyed a large majority on Medway Council, and this result will give the local party confidence going into next years full Council elections.

So how does this fit in to the wider picture? On the one hand, this is just one result. I was accused of extrapolating the result too far by suggesting that Labour have their work cut out in the South East. This may be true, although I certainly wouldn't be the first to over exaggerate anything on twitter! However, there is a serious problem here that Labour need to address. In 2005 the party held 7 of the 17 seats in Kent; now they hold zero. The Conservatives wiped them out in May, and on this evidence nothing has changed over the summer. They may have risen around 6% in national polls, but that doesn't appear be coming from their former strongholds in the South. A recent by-election for the Bath & North East Somerset Council in which I expected Labour to be a bit more competitive shows this isn't the only case. It's going to be very interesting to see how Labour perform in next months elections for the Exeter and Norwich city Councils.

If, as the small amount of evidence would suggest, Labour haven't recovered in the South since May then it begs the question where have the extra voters come from over the summer. If they're stacking them up in their heartlands then the short term affects may be good. With the devolved Scottish and Welsh elections next year, a substantial increase on their 2007 vote could see them take control of both legislatures. They might also be picking up a number of tactical voters, who are now deserting the Liberal Democrats in the wake of the coalition agreement. Of course, 10% extra on a poor third place finish isn't going to net Labour many seats at the next General Election. What the party really needs is to regain the towns and cities in the South if they are to form the next Government. If they don't, then it puts a lot of pressure on squeezing as many seats as possible in the Northern Industrial areas where they're traditionally strong. Last night result doesn't mean Labour can't win in the South, or that Ed Miliband has absolutely no appeal to Southern voters. But it is a small reminder to Labour that they can't expect to just sit around and wait for the country to come crawling back to them.

Medway Council
















Vote %


David Craggs (E)




John Jones




Garry Harrison




Steven Keevil




Brian Ravenscroft




Ron Sands





  1. It might have been the first seat the Conservatives gained in the past couple of months (i.e. "since the General Election") but all of Medway's by-elections (three in as many years) returned Conservatives, including taking a seat in one of their very safest wards in the whole of Kent less than a year ago.

    The trend here has been convincingly in the Conservative direction for over a decade now, as the record clearly shows. They now have 34 of the 55 seats, almost four times as many seats as Labour's nine. This is major!

  2. Even if it is a sign that Labour are losing further ground in the SE... Stacking up extra votes in the already quite Conservative constituencies isn't likely to make much change to the national landscape tho.

  3. David Craggs has resigned after just 13 days in the job. Apparently had to choose between being a Councillor or a Special Constable...he opted for the latter.