One of election night’s biggest surprises was right on my doorstep and I slept through. Supposedly safe Labour seat Manchester Withington went Lib Dem on a swing of by-election proportions: 17.3 per cent. And I think they’ll hold it next time round.
Once again I was going against the flow. In 1997 I voted Lib Dem, in 2001 I spoilt my paper and this year I voted Labour for the first time in a parliamentary election. I was one of the few people worried that the Tories might win, although there was never any chance of them taking this seat. Lucky Manchester is not only a Conservative free zone in terms of elected offices, it has no party organisation. The local constituency parties were disbanded due to lack of interest after they lost their last councillor and parliamentary candidates are selected by the regional office in Bolton.
Nationally the Conservative share of the vote, at 32.3 per cent, is up an insignificant 0.6 per cent (and just 1.5 per cent up on 1997), while Labour’s down 5.4 per cent to 35.3 per cent, with the Lib Dems up 3.8 per cent to 22 per cent. That Lib Dem swing explains why Labour was able to win with the smallest share of the vote by a winning party. And the Lib Dem’s forward march has probably made more difference to the Tories than their own efforts.
The Conservative Party has failed to capitalise on the government’s unpopularity. Had they developed a (on their terms) positive vision for the country (they’ve not even got an economic policy) I think they could have won. However, (hard to say this without sounding bitchy) I genuinely believe that they lack the intellectual capacity that requires. Let’s hope the Tories kid themselves it was their night and hold on to Howard and particularly Oliver Letwin (who they think is rather clever, but is merely smug).
Overall a good result. Labour has a working majority, but it’s now too small to get through its more illiberal measures, like ID cards. Labour’s task is not to appease right wingers, but to win back Lib Dem voters. Hopefully, this factor will combine with increased influence for radical Labour MPs to force the delivery of a genuine reforming agenda. At local level, we can probably expect to see Metrolink funding magically materialise. If that happens, the leadership’s rejuvenated following Blair’s retirement and there’s no equivalent of the Iraq factor in four years time, there’s no reason to believe Labour can’t win a fourth term.
(Statistics updated Monday 9 May.)