A verdict on the Government?
On Thursday, Labour won the Feltham & Heston by-election, triggered by the tragic death of Labour MP Alan Keen. Labour gained 12,174 votes, with Conservatives coming in 2nd on 6,436 votes. But is this really ‘a verdict on the government’s failed economic plan’ or a ‘swing away from Tory ideas to Labour ideas’ as has been said?
On the face of it, it would seem so, after all the two governing parties came in second and third. Conservatives lost by almost twice the votes which they themselves received, and the Liberal Democrats were a distant third with only 1,364 votes. However, several other factors should also be taken into consideration.
Firstly, turnout was down, from 59.9% to a lousy 28.8% – the lowest turnout for a by-election since 2000. Meaning that over 70% of the electorate were either apathetic, disillusioned or content with the government or politics in general.
The election provided no endorsement for David Cameron and the Conservatives either, with their vote dropping by well over half. Although, a more positive note of the by-election is that we still remain the main challengers for the seat. Nonetheless, it can also be argue that the veto came too late to affect postal votes, as most were cast by the Friday. It also backs the idea that although the vote for the Conservatives has not increased, it hasn’t decreased much either.
Labour’s vote was also down, from 21,174 to 12,639 (or 41.3%). Hardly a resounding shout of support for Ed Miliband or the current direction which Labour is heading. Of course, Labour and its spinners will focus on the more positive percentages such as the 8.6% swing from Conservatives to Labour. However, the seat was already held by Labour, featured a largely Labour loyal community and still showed no evidence of support for Labour’s current policies – assuming anyone even knows what they are.
On a side note, for UKIP the election can be seen more positively. They came only 88 votes from overhauling a governing party, and were the only party of the top four which increased their vote, from 992 to 1,276. There’s also no evidence suggesting the issue of Europe had any significant effect on the voters, supporting the suggestion that UKIP is more than a one-issue party.
So, a verdict on the Government? No. A safe Labour seat electing another Labour MP? Yes, and nothing more.
Although, It’s also the best result for the Conservatives short of winning. Bad enough to offer little chance of wider election success for Ed Miliband, but enough to put to rest speculation about his leadership for the time being. The real challenge will come with by-elections in either Conservative or Lib Dem seats, especially those nearing the time of the general election.