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The nothing-in-it-for-anyone by-election

By Paul Goodman
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It's sometimes said of an election result that "there's something in it for everyone".

When it comes to yesterday's Feltham and Heston by-election, however, the figures show that there was nothing in it for anyone, except perhaps UKIP.

  • Labour's vote fell by over a third - from 21,174 to 12,639 to be precise.  Were I one of the party's spinners, I would avoid this figure and proclaim both its higher percentage of the vote (54.4% compared to 43.6% last year) and the swing to Labour - 8.6%.  One can have a lot of fun with what by-election swings would produce if replicated in a general election, and the spinners will doubtless try to do so.  But I doubt if their hearts will be in it: the first by-election test of Ed Miliband's leadership has seen his party gain the support of under 13,000 voters.  The turnout was a meagre 28.8% - apparently the lowest in a by-election for 11 years.  All this is just about the perfect Labour result for David Cameron: bad enough for Miliband to offer little prospect of general election success, but good enough to douse speculation about his leadership (at least today).
  • The Conservative vote dropped by well over half - from 16,516 to 6,436.  So no endorsement for David Cameron, although CCHQ will argue that his veto came too late to affect the postal votes, many of which had already been cast by last Friday.  (They constituted over 20 per cent of the vote in 2010.)  The silver lining of this lustreless cloud for Number 10 is that the Tory vote didn't collapse, as it has so often done in by-elections when squeezed.  We remained the main challengers in a paltry field.  This reinforces the suggestion of the broader opinion polls that while the Conservative vote hasn't risen since the last election it hasn't fallen much either.
  • The Liberal Democrat vote - er, move along, nothing to see here.
  • UKIP failed to overhaul the Liberal Democrats, which will disappoint the party.  However, it almost did so, winning 1,276 votes to the 1,364 gained by Nick Clegg's party.  It thus became the only one of the four to increase its vote (992 in 21010) and share (from 2.0 to 5.8), and also the only one to win a by-election share near what the wider polls are currently recording.  However, there is no evidence from the result that the EU issue had any significant effect on the voters of Feltham and Heston.  This tallies with findings which suggest that UKIP's support has less to do with Europe than one might think.


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