Earlier this week the Tories were predicting they’d win Cheadle, but today they learned yet more of their supporters had crossed to the Lib Dems: a swing of just 0.63 per cent, but there’s little more to squeeze out of the Conservatives. A Tory think tank established by the determined ex-leader with nothing to say believes failure came because, to paraphrase (and borrow from Theresa May), they’re still the nasty party of British politics.
The swing to the Lib Dems is all the more remarkable coming so soon after the London bombing. Liberal Democrats are often categorised as soft on crime and are used to rebuffing accusations of being soft on terrorism. The Conservative Party is the natural home of the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade. It’s to this constituency the party appeals when in trouble and to this constituency it appealed in Cheadle. Yet even set against the emotional background of a recent terrorist attack, this populism failed. Conservatives have not gained a seat in a by-election since 1982. It appears increasingly unlikely that they ever will.