Hollow victory for the Lib Dems

CONGRATULATIONS to the Liberal Democrats for coming close to puncturing David Cameron's ego in Bromley and Chislehurst last week, although their mud slinging by-election tactics does politics little credit among an increasingly disillusioned electorate.

By Graham Dines

CONGRATULATIONS to the Liberal Democrats for coming close to puncturing David Cameron's ego in Bromley and Chislehurst last week, although their mud slinging by-election tactics does politics little credit among an increasingly disillusioned electorate.

Before the Lib Dems get carried away, I would suggest they have absolutely no chance of overturning the slimed downed 633 majority in this south east London constituency at the next General Election. I'll go further - I bet that new MP Bob Neill's majority will be greater than the combined winning margins of whoever wins both Colchester and Ipswich next time.

By-elections are made for Liberal Democrats. They have fewer paid up members and activists than the other parties so their resources are stretched at general elections. But at by-elections, they stick two fingers up to the environment and green transport and get hundreds of volunteers to drive from all over the UK to lend a hand to try to pull off stunning results.


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Despite Liberal, SDP and Lib Dem by-election upsets over the years stretching all the way back to the 1960s in Bromley's neighbouring seat of Orpington and also David Steel's victory in Roxburgh, Selkirk & Pebbles, they have always been false dawns. Voters use casual elections to punish the two main parties and the Lib Dems are seen as a safe depository for their protests.

Very few constituencies won in by-elections have centre party Dems MPs today. The distortion of boundary changes every 15 or so years accounts for some of the losses, but mostly seats revert to other parties when voters are choosing a new government. (Notable exceptions in modern times are Brent East, Eastleigh, and Romsey).

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Labour wallowed in hollow comfort in the Tories' fright in Bromley, because it took some of the limelight off its own inept performance in the Blaenau Gwent by-election, where an Independent candidate held on in what was always regarded as Labour's safest seat in Wales.

But Labour finished fourth in Bromley behind the UK Independence Party. To be rebuffed in both seats last week should be the final nail in Tony Blair's coffin. The dilemma for Labour is they are uncertain how Gordon Brown, a Scottish MP, will be received south of the border. We may have to wait for a by-election is a marginal Labour-held English seat to determine whether Gordon Brown is an asset or a liability for Labour.

And what of David Cameron? It could well have been the case that had the local Tories not rejected Cameron's reformist A list candidates and plumped for old school “blazer and tie” Bob Neill - who was at least well known in the borough as their elected representative on the Greater London Authority - they may have lost.

I suspect many more traditional Tory voters, suspicious of the Cameron upheaval, would have voted UKIP had the Tories chosen little Adam Rickett, the former Coronation Street star and one time lead actor in the tearful Aids musical Rent.

Cameron has based his “modernise or die” call to the Tories on the belief that Conservative supporters would accept his reforms as necessary to attract a new generation of voters who would remove Labour from office.

But old school Tories do have somewhere else to go - UKIP is lurking in the wings with open arms.

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