When a triumph's not a triumph

THE Conservatives have hailed the outcome of last week's 53 vote victory in the Stowmarket North & Stowupland by-election to Suffolk county council as a great triumph.

Graham Dines

THE Conservatives have hailed the outcome of last week's 53 vote victory in the Stowmarket North & Stowupland by-election to Suffolk county council as a great triumph. Analysis tells a somewhat different story.

Given that the Tories had their fingers crossed following the outcry over the salary being paid to the county council's new chief executive, to hang on to a seat in which they were defending a majority of 197 is no doubt a relief to party strategists.

But the Conservatives' share of the vote at 38.6% was only 0.3% above that achieved by the Tories and an independent Tory when the seat was contested last year.

The Liberal Democrat vote share rocketed from 21.7% to 36.2%. The Lib Dems picked up most of their extra 330 votes from Labour, who polled a derisory 8.8% and the Green Party which went down from 14.9% to 10.7%.

Given that Labour is teetering on the brink nationally, it seems the Tories only won the by-election because they picked up 71 votes from the UK Independence Party.

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The swing from Tory to Liberal Democrat may have been less than in neighbouring Thedwestre South, which the Lib Dems gained last year. But a swing is a swing.

Extrapolating local by-elections into the national picture is fraught with pitfalls. Circumstances unique to individual seats cannot be taken into consideration.

The opinion polls look good for the Conservatives, but if they are to beat Gordon Brown at the next election, they will need Labour voters to switch directly to David Cameron. That did not happen in Stowmarket North & Stowupland.

WHO would have predicted 10 months' ago that Gordon Brown would now be one of the most unpopular prime ministers in history?

As Labour crashes around his ears, he is dogmatically sticking to the line that the majority of wage-earners in Britain are better off as a result of the 2p decrease in the basic rate of income tax.

Abolishing the 10p starting rate to simplify the tax system has caught millions of the low paid in the taxation net, the very people Labour says it was elected to protect and to shelter.

Gordon Brown has discovered the hard way the down side of politics. Give people a pay rise - which is what he has done to everyone earning more than £25,000 - and they'll accept it with alacrity and with not a hint of gratitude. Tax the poor until the pips squeak - to misquote a favourite saying of the old left of the Labour Party - and they'll turn on you with a hostility you'd find hard to imagine.

In the opinion polls, the Conservatives now stand at 44%, 16 points clear of Labour, who are on 28%, with the Liberal Democrats trudging along on 17%. Unbelievably, the Tories are portraying themselves as the champion of the low paid.

Labour MPs, worried that they'll lose their seats through a combination of Brown's ineptitude and the resurgence of the Tories, are threatening to rebel, not just on 10p but also the proposed 42 day detention without charge of suspected terror subjects.

The longer he stays in power, the deeper the hole Brown digs for himself. Unless he loses a vote of confidence - and surely not even he could achieve that calamity with a parliamentary majority in excess of 60? - journalists can safely book their holidays for the next two years, safe in the knowledge than plans won't have to be cancelled because of a General Election. Brown and Labour are in for the long haul to the last possible date.

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