Saturday, November 14, 2009

Glasgow North East By-Election Result

I've heard and seen a lot of positive media coverage for Labour over it's inevitable by-election victory in Glasgow North East. The result is being portrayed as a boost for Gordon Brown that cements his position as Labour leader until the election next year.

I've no doubt it does cement his position. After all, there's no one with the balls (oops, sorry Harriet - or ovaries) to challenge him unless he really was doing so badly that he lost, what must be, one of the safest Labour seats in the country. But is this really such a great result?

It would be churlish to suggest it isn't at least a reasonable result considering the unpopularity of Brown's government generally. But many Labour supporters are portraying this as evidence that "we can still win". While I understand their desperation for crumbs of comfort after such a prolonged period of political failure, I just don't see their case for this at all.

Usually, in order to determine the success or failure of an election campaign you look to the previous result to assess changes in support. But, all this constituency can tell us is how well Labour is doing against the SNP. And even this isn't completely clear, as the previous incumbent was in the role of Speaker at the last election so didn't face opposition from the Tories or Lib Dems and didn't stand as an official Labour candidate. To further cloud the issue the SNP had a disastrous start to their campaign when their first choice candidate had to pull out due to revelations about his personal finances.

The most relevant election to compare this years result to is 1997's, when Michael Martin last stood as a Labour party candidate proper. A lot is being made of Willie Bain's majority being over 8,000 votes, as if this is impressive. Considering Labour problems nationally and the incredibly low expectations of them, I guess it is impressive. But compare that majority with the one they got in 1997: 17326 - more that twice the size! In that poll they managed to get a whopping 71% of the votes against just 59% this time.

This, at least, gives you a view of the extent to which the seat is terminally Labourite. The result tells us very little about Labour's popularity nationally. In Glasgow NE they got away with campaigning as an opposition against Scotland's governing party.  But in a general election they will be up against David Cameron's Tories and will have to defend their record in government. It's being said that the by-election result isn't a great result for the Conservatives as they made no progress with their share of the vote, showing they continue to struggle for support in Scotland. This may be true, but one good thing for them does seem to have come out of this...

Gordon Brown will be Labour leader at the next election. Cameron will be celebrating that fact.

UK Polling Report: Glasgow North East Seat Profile

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