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July, 19th 2007

Labour keeps seats in today's elections... but by reduced margins

– Liz Mair

I'm disappointed, of course, that Labour won both the by-elections in the UK tonight (including the one for Tony Blair's old seat in Sedgefield). But, I am interested in the fact that Labour's margin over other parties was diminished by quite a lot in both cases.

Labour won Sedgefield (Blair's old constituency) by 6,956 votes-- a lot less than the 18,449 that Blair won it by in 2005. Now, it's easy to imagine that a lot of people liked the idea of their MP being the Prime Minister, so even if they weren't big Labour supporters, voted for Blair anyway because he was, well, Blair. But still, since in my experience, most people in Britain vote on the basis of party, not persona, I'm surprised that Labour's margin wasn't wider this time, nonetheless. I can only imagine that even in Sedgefield, support for Labour is dwindling. Maybe in the constituency of Blair, they're less keen on the party led by Brown?

As for Ealing Southall, where the other by-election occurred, Labour won by 5,070, down from 11,440 in 2005. Again, I suspect that some people who might not be 100% enthralled by Labour supported the previous Labour MP, who was the oldest MP in the Commons, and my guess is, pretty popular with the constituents. But still, the Ealing Southall result shows a big dropoff in support for Labour.

My suspicion is that the diminished margins for Labour come down to one thing, above all: the War. In both seats, the Liberal Democrats (about the most vocal anti-war types out there, apart from George Galloway and the Socialist Workers people) came second. In Sedgefield, they actually overtook the Tories (bad news, guys-- I am not enthused). Turnout was also a lot lower than in 2005-- which isn't surprising given that these were by-elections-- and that, combined with lower margins for Labour, makes me think that there are some very dedicated, grumpy, anti-war types ready to make their voices heard.

My question is, if Gordon Brown is stupid enough to call a general election in the next few months, before British troops are out of Iraq (and I have no doubt they'll be coming out very soon), will we see Labour's margins diminished such that in less safe constituencies, they lose handily to Lib Dems? Based on the diminished returns tonight alone, I think that's possible. I'd like to say that Labour losses in a forthcoming election would be related to the Tories getting stronger, rather than the Lib Dems (most of whose supporters, in my experience, are close to certifiable), but I don't think that will be the case.

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