I almost had a heart attack when I awoke to grim BBC News 24 presenters informing the world of a ‘bad night’ for the Tories at the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election. For one terrible minute, I thought we had lost one of our safest seats. However, I was soon given the good news. The seat is still Tory, but only just. Our majority of 13,342 has been slashed to 633.
I must say that, unlike the BBC, I do not see this as a bad night.
Here are my reasons.
Everybody knows that the LibDems are skilled by-election campaigners. Dirty tricks, negative campaigning, all par for the course for them. True, the other parties are guilty of this, but in no way near the same measure as the LibDems. The real test of LibDem popularity is not a by-election, but the General Elections. In the latter case, with their resources thinly spread everywhere, they are not in a position to make the sort of impact they make at by-elections. Having said that, I am still grateful they did not win the seat. It is incredibly hard to defeat a sitting LibDem MP at a General Election, so I suppose we should be thankful we held on to the seat, regardless of the greatly reduced majority.
True, we lost some votes to UKIP, but not in such great number as to make one panic. This is significant when you consider the fact that they were standing against a Tory candidate that one could reasonably describe as pro-Europe.
Another thing to consider is turn-out. This time around, it was just over 40 per cent. Compare this to a 64.8 per cent turn-out at the General Elections last year. Then, the late Eric Forth polled 23,583 votes for the Tories, and the LibDem candidate managed 9,368. Yesterday, the Tory candidate polled 11,621 votes (down 11,962 votes from last year), while the LibDems got 10,988 votes (up 1,620 from last year). So where did the ‘missing’ 11,962 Tory votes go? Certainly not all to the LibDems. They appear to have acquired no more than 10 per cent of those votes. As a result, their ‘progress’ has been greatly overstated. UKIP managed an increase of 872 votes from last year, but that is hardly sufficient to account for the ‘missing votes’. A sensible conclusion to draw from this is that the Tory vote did not turn out in force, as one might expect. It may be that with a majority of 13,342 at the last General Elections, complacency played a big part yesterday. However, I am confident that this will not happen at General Election time.
So I am not unduly worried. We learnt an important lesson yesterday; complacency nearly cost us a safe seat. However, the stay-at-home Tory voters should not be blamed for this. By all accounts, our by-election strategy wasn’t as effective as one would have hoped. Compared to the LibDems’, our campaign literature was prolix and uninspiring. Also, not enough effort was made to counter the dirty tricks campaign by the LibDems. In conclusion, all I can say is I am grateful that this happened in a safe seat. Had this been a marginal seat, we would be telling a different, more depressing story today.