The opinion polls continue to suggest there is little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives, as has broadly been the case ever since last year’s General Election. Everybody else is far behind, though the Liberal Democrats do occasionally manage to nudge into double figures.
A closer reading of the polls, though, would seem to indicate that support for one and all is fragile. That picture is amply confirmed in the pattern of local by-elections.
It is not that there has been an unusual number of gains and losses (21 seats have changed hands in the 71 contests since May 2018), rather there have been some tidal shifts in the votes attracted by each party.
In the last few weeks alone, the Liberal Democrat vote share was down by 30 percentage points in Newquay, Cornwall, but the party gained the Watton-at-Stone ward in East Hertfordshire polling fully two-thirds of the vote from a standing start.
In Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, the party polled 400 more votes than in 2017 on a much lower turnout, to easily depose the Conservatives.
Labour, too, has had its ups and downs. In Neath Port Talbot’s Gwynfi ward, it suffered a calamity – slumping from 56 per cent of the vote to just 13 per cent to be swept aside by an Independent candidate. The Conservatives attracted just four votes in the same ward.
On the other hand, Labour nearly doubled its vote share and ran the Conservatives close in the Newton Regis and Warton ward of North Warwickshire – a constituency where the Conservatives posted one of their best results in the country at last year’s General Election.
As the governing party, the Conservatives themselves would expect reverses. They have lost a net five seats since May, but often still manage to sweep up the last vestiges of UKIP support in wards previously contested in 2015. Their victory in Thanet in July, for example, saw their vote share more than double.
With both major parties riven by internal disputes, and with the UK set to leave the EU on whatever terms scarcely a month before next May’s local elections, it is likely that electoral volatility will continue to be commonplace, and that unforeseen issues or events have the potential to impact rapidly on voters’ opinions and behaviour. It is no time to try to be a soothsayer.
37.8% over Con Turnout 26%
|Carlisle, Denton Holme|
37.9% over Con Turnout 22.1%
LIB DEM HELD
28.2% over Ind
|Cumbria, Denton Holme|
31.5% over Con Turnout 22.1%
|East Hertfordshire, Watton-at-Stone|
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
37% over Con
|Knowsley, Halewood South|
11.9% over Ind
|Neath Port Talbot, Gwynfi|
IND GAIN FROM LAB
42% over Plaid Cymru Turnout 51%
|North Warwickshire, Newton Regis and Warton|
4.4% over Lab Turnout 32%
|North Yorkshire, Knaresborough|
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
19.8% over Con Turnout 30.3%
9.1% over Lab
|Sevenoaks, Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth|
29% over Lib Dem Turnout 25.6%
|Tameside, Ashton Waterloo|
26% over Green Turnout 19.5%
18.9% over Con Turnout 23%