It's all down to statistics

By Graham DinesPolitical |EditorTHE Liberal Democrats are back on top form - when it comes to fighting by-elections, no political party in Britain can out match Sir Menzies Campbell's troops for sheer audacity with just more than the odd amount of dirty tricks thrown in as well.

By Graham Dines

Political |Editor

THE Liberal Democrats are back on top form - when it comes to fighting by-elections, no political party in Britain can out match Sir Menzies Campbell's troops for sheer audacity with just more than the odd amount of dirty tricks thrown in as well.

Bromley & Chislehurst is ultra safe Conservative territory in London. And the death of popular maverick Conservative MP Eric Forth should not have presented the party with any difficulty in holding the seat.


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Enter the Lib Dems. In a campaign which dubbed Conservative candidate Bob Neill “three jobs Bob,” they made great play of his membership of the Greater London Assembly and a soon to be wound up health authority - neatly ignoring that some of their own MPs kept their local council seats even after being elected to Westminster.

Mr Neill scraped home by 663 votes. If he had not had local links, he may very well have lost.

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The scale of the swing to the Lib Dems should cause alarm in Tory ranks in Suffolk and Essex. If the Bromley & Chislehurst result was replicated, only three seats - Suffolk West, Maldon & Chelmsford West, and Saffron Walden - would be safe should circumstances force a by-election.

Labour was pushed into fourth place in Bromley & Chislehurst behind the UK Independence Party and there was little consolation for Tony Blair in Blaenau Gwent. Independent candidate Dai Davies was elected by a majority of 2,484 votes in a constituency which used to be the party's safest seat in Wales until a self-inflicted feud over all-women shortlists.

Labour and Tory strategists have played down the results, with Tory chairman describing it as a “wake up call.” Given that Tory leader David Cameron has claimed he has woken up the sleeping Tories and to put them in a position to challenge for government, the outcome in Bromley must have been a bitter disappointment.

Many Conservative seats are vulnerable to the Lib Dems and party strategists must be concerned that they could only just fend off a characteristically vigorous challenge from them on Thursday.

Tony Blair can only look on the results as a clear signal that it's time for him to go before Labour's electoral fortunes sink so slow that they will not be recoverable before the next General Election.

Sir Menzies Campbell will feel the result proves that concern over his leadership style and lacklustre Commons performances is just so much Westminster gossip. But despite hundreds of Lib Dem activists pouring onto the streets of south east London, he hasn't got any more MPs on his benches.

Perversely, on the basis of all June's local council by-elections including contests on Thursday, the Tories have a margin of 7.42% over Labour, with the Lib Dems trailing a distant.

That's statistics for you.

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