Yesterday we had two by-elections. Claction was an emphatic, walkover win for Douglas Carswell and UKIP, which was largely what everyone expected – he was particularly well regarded as an MP and the demographics of the seat could not have been better for UKIP. Heywood and Middleton was more of a surprise, many expected the seat to be a relatively easy Labour hold when in fact UKIP came within 2 points.

After every by-election you essentially see the same comments reading far too much into them, and I make the same blog post saying that by-elections are extremely odd events and you can’t read too much into them: they have low turnout, are in a single seat that will not be representative of the wider country, are far more intensely fought than normal election and, crucially, do not have any impact on who the government will be the next day. If by-elections behave like the national polls, they tell us nothing new. If they behave differently, it’s probably because by-elections themselves are very different.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t extremely important, as they are. They help shape the political narrative and public opinion. While Carswell’s victory was broadly expected and costed in within the Westminster village, its getting huge coverage on the media now and I expect it will result in a boost for UKIP in the national polls. If you follow UKIP’s support in the opinion polls over the last few years you’ll see it’s a pattern of spikes in support from positive publicity, mostly as a result of electoral success (local elections, strong by-election showings, European elections), each time settling back at a slightly higher level. For a challenger party the big challenges are getting coverage, being taken seriously and being seen as a viable choice rather than a wasted vote. This will help them a lot – I’d expect a spike it in the polls, and it’ll be interesting to see which other parties they draw support from. On that issue, it will also be interesting to see how Labour react to the closeness of the result in Heywood, currently support for UKIP has disproportionately come from former Conservative voters and the Labour party seem to have regarded UKIP as their enemy’s enemy, but they also have the clear potential to draw support from more Labour demographics.

As this is a polling blog I should save my last comment for the polls. The two polls in Clacton, conducted by Ashcroft and Survation, were both conducted more than a month before polling day, so they cannot in all fairness be compared to the final result (opinion in Clacton could easily have changed in the interim period), for the record though they were both pretty close to the actual result, certainly they got the broad picture of a UKIP landslide correct. The two polls in Heywood and Middleton (conducted again by Ashcroft and Survation) are more worrying. They were conducted about a week and a half before the election – so there was time for some change, but not that much (and many would have voted by post before polling day). Both showed a nineteen point lead for Labour when in reality they ending up squeaking home by two points. In both cases the polls both overestimated Labour support, and underestimated UKIP support.

600 Responses to “Clacton, Heywood & Middleton”

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  1. First. :-)

  2. 2nd for UKIP

  3. There continues to be little evidence that UKIP has attracted any substantial section of Labour voters. The results suggest that they have instead hoovered up most of the previous “working class Tory” vote.

  4. From speaking to UKIP supporters (sadly I know a few), they all seem incredibly highly motivated to vote, whereas Labour supporters in H&M probably simply couldn’t be bothered. I think polling companies are still struggling with factoring in the quasi-religious fervency of UKIP supporters – I’d personally expect 99% of people who say they support UKIP to turn out to vote in whatever election is in question, and the same certainly cannot be said for other parties.

  5. The turnout could be what caused the poor Labour result in Heywood & Middleton. Labour couldn’t motivate enough of its supporters to go out & vote, and clearly there were defections to UKIP from Labour voters too. This is rather less likely to be the case than in a general election, but it’s clearly not good bearing in mind that the party’s supporters ought to be more motivated than those of the government parties.

  6. The H&M poll by Ashcroft was clearly way out with reagrds to UKIP & Labour support. Any reasons for such a dramatic change ?

    Also I wonder what the effect would be at the GE if this played out nationally ? Further with the defection of labour support during the Scottish referendum, what additional effect would this have also ?

    No axe to grind with any party, just mulling over what would happen to the top line poll if all these factors played out ?

  7. omit the word “than” from my last post – it makes it mean the opposite of what I intended!

  8. I would still be more inclined to assume that the Heywood & Middleton UKIP voters came primarily from “did not vote” rather than switching directly from Labour, after all Labour improved it’s vote share rather than see it drop. That’s not to say they’re not a threat in “Labour areas”, since you can actually win seats by getting “did not vote” out to vote for you. But they’re not the same existential threat to the party as they are to the Conservatives.

    I’d say that the issue is area, rather than demographic. An area that has lost a lot of right wing votes to “do not vote” over the years, perhaps because of being a Labour safe seat, may well be ripe for sudden big vote shares for UKIP.

    I’d also note that the by-elections were at their best timing for the Conservatives, in the shadow of the Conservative Conference boost, and likewise the worst timed for Labour.

  9. I also note that the Turnout for Heywood & Middleton was 36%. Which suggests a Labour voter complacency effect. (“Why bother voting, we already know the result…”)

  10. I think we’ve seen several cases where a Labour stronghold vote has dropped quite sharply at a by-election only to be pretty much back to normal at the GE that follows it. So I don’t think there’s reason for panic in the Labour camp, just heightened awareness and better efforts to get their vote out.

    The UKIP results speak for themselves and give DC a huge headache (much worse than for Miliband). We await further defections: usually the chances in any given situation is very low, now there are high expectations of more.

    For the LD’s, I wonder if the rise in the UKIP vote might mop up some Labour support and thus help save one or two of their beleagued MP’s?

  11. “After every by-election you essentially see the same comments reading far too much into them, and I make the same blog post saying that by-elections are extremely odd events and you can’t read too much into them: they have low turnout, are in a single seat that will not be representative of the wider country, are far more intensely fought than normal election and, crucially, do not have any impact on who the government will be the next day”

    This is very true but we have now had something in the region of 10 or 11 by-elections where the Lib/Dems have lost their deposits.

    That can’t be a great forecast for expectations going into the GE.

    UKIP did extremely well in Clacton and a lot of that will be attributed to the MP being well known in the area but that doesn’t explain UKIP almost out polling Labour in Haywood.

    7 months to go peeps…

  12. But also surely polling in a by-election is very hard too because you have such a poor sample size of an unrepresentative part of the country and in both cases you have a strong “protest” party who didn’t feature in the previous election (in Heywood’s case).

    I’d the say the most we could say about Clacton is that, with a longstanding MP, favourable demographics and a huge majority they are likely to win at the GE. I would say they are also now likely to win in Rochester.

    If anyone thinks that Heywood is going to be anything other than a rock solid Labour seat at the GE you better start putting money on UKIP getting an overall majority at the next election.

  13. It is also a reminder to Lab that neither the rise in UKIP and the collapse of the LDs are necessarily going to benefit Labour and unless they can be seen as a viable alternative government in waiting, with a leader people could just about tolerate, they will not benefit.

  14. Statgeek (fpt)

    I think the Scotland Votes has been slightly tweaked of late. It no longer shows Charlie Kennedy hanging on regardless of the LD vote share. But it still needs a 90% vote total for the big 3 + the LDs. They do need to put in a UKIP line.

  15. RogerH (fpt)

    Can’t really see that Labour did badly in Heywood. It was an excellent result for UKIP but their votes came from the Tories, LibDems and BNP, not Labour

    On the contrary the two polls we do have show that UKIP attracted substantial votes from Labour. Survation showed 35% of the UKIP vote coming Labour, actually more than the 33% from the Conservatives. Ashcroft showed 16% and 23% respectively (the figures are handled differently by the two pollsters, so they’re not strictly comparable). Labour were probably only saved by attracting more Lib Dem votes than UKIP did[1].

    The constituency polls didn’t actually do that well in Heywood and the two Clacton ones were taken immediately after Carswell defected, which was thought to flatter his chances (there was a drop from 64% to 56% in the day’s difference between Survation and Ashcroft). The fact that he actually got 60% suggests a later poll would have underestimated UKIP even more – as they did in Heywood (Survation 31%, Ashcroft 28%, Actual 49%).

    [1] Survation found very few people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 and didn’t compensate, but this is clearer in the Ashcroft figures.

  16. If I were a potential Tory – UKIP defector I don’t think I’d be reading too much into Carswell winning in Clacton as it really was an ideal UKIP seat.

    I’d wait until the Rochester & Strood result was released as it is a completely different kettle of fish. Here are some relevant stats:

    6% (2,500) of workers in Tendring commute to London for work compared to 17% (17,300) in Medway.

    In Medway between 2001 and 2011 the Black and Minority Ethnic (BEM) population has doubled from 5% to 10%. In Tendring it is still just 2.5%.

    Tendring has an economic inactivity rate of 29% compared to 24% in Medway

    Tendring has the 28th highest level of adults with no educational qualifications in England & Wales with 21.1%. Medway is 128th with 15.6%.

    All these factors make Rochester a much more difficult prospect for UKIP.

    On a personal note I have a friend who lives in the Rochester constituency who is Scottish, Asian, educated to NVQ4+ and works in the public sector. Pretty much the exact opposite of a UKIP target voter!

  17. Oops! UKIP actual was 39% of course, the polls were bad but not that bad.

  18. @Allan Christie, Adrian B

    Again, the Heywood & Middleton’s turnout was only 36%. This is a constituency where the past general election turnout was 57%, 55%, 53% and 68%.

    Combine that with Labour *improving it’s vote share*, and it’s very clear to me that this was a turnout differential result not UKIP poaching votes from them. If Labour are worried about this seat, they just have to increase the get-out-the-vote work. But they probably don’t even need to target resources here at the general election.

  19. @Roger Mexico

    I do not think that result is grounded by the actual election returns, as Labour *increased* their vote share. So they gained more votes from somewhere than they ‘lost’ to UKIP.

  20. Just for fun, I tried merging the Conservative and UKIP colours (we might need to in future charts!):

    On the left, Conservative…on the right, UKIP…in the middle…a rather nice shade of a darker blue:

    (It’s Friday – non-partisan silliness is should be allowed)

  21. The last sentence in your 10Oct14 blog is the important one: Labour’s opinion poll vote is always too high in reality (compared to the Conservatives, whose supporters often reply ‘Don’t Know’ out of misplaced shyness); whereas the whole of the political establishment keeps underestimating UKIP as looney and wasted. With the EU and the Euro now on the brink of economic disaster, it’s time Cameron at least woke up if he wants to stay in power; I can’t see Milliband being savvy enough to see the danger and the Liberals are plain lost.

  22. My own poll of polls shows both the Conservatives and Labour gaining seats at the expense of a collapsed Liberal vote (down to 19 seats) but the Conservatives would still be short of a majority by 10 seats.

  23. Perhaps “shy-kippers” are more likely to be ex-labour?

  24. @northumbrianscot

    You’re probably right Rochester and Strood is hae=rd to predict. Thanet more of an equivalent to Clacton maybe.

    There are differences and similarities across the Thames, I suppose it is down to historical rail links. North Londoners migrating to Essex, South Londoners drifting east along the N Kent coast.

    Once you’re there though it can get to you perhaps (what “it” is isn’t clear). Smithson links Clacton (and Skegness) to Butlins, but I’m wondering about the various Saxon clans, who after taking the big leap were too timid to venture further than the first spit of land they lighted on.

  25. Taking to heart Anthony’s good advice not to make too much of by-election results this is just a suggestion of what might be an effect.

    I think people here are probably right to suggest that in Heywood, UKIP gathered the Non Labour vote and only got close to Labour because of low turnout.

    This could, and I emphasis this is speculation see UKIP overtake the Tories to come second in a whole raft of safe Labour seats.

    Still no closer to taking Labours strongholds than the Tories but in doing so raising a whole lot of media speculation about the Tories no longer being a national Party.

    The other side of this is that at the same time you could see UKIP supplant Labour as the challenger in many Tory safe seats.

    Whether the narrative this might create that neither Labour or the Tories are national Party’s anymore takes root would be interesting.

    Could UKIP over time with some MP’s grow to be a genuinely National Party ( it is still far behind in Scotland and I am not sure about wales or Northern Ireland) uniting both Working and Middle class England behind a sort to Telegraph/Mail agenda;

    Anti-Europe, Anti-ECHR, Anti-immigration, Anti-Overseas aid, Anti-scrounger, Strong but non-interventionist Defence, Free trade and pro American.

    It would be more defined by what it was against than for but it would be an alternative to Left v Right all be it politically far more Tory than Labour.

    You could argue that just as the SNP has shown it can appeal o a wide cross section of Scots while being on the same ground as Labour in Scotland UKIP might be able to attract from all Party’s in the same way in England.

    Just in case anyone doesn’t know, there is hardly a UKIP policy I don’t disagree with, but it’s not about whether I like their policies so much as whither they can coalesce enough voters around them.


  26. If UKIP does make a major break through in the General election perhaps the two ‘main’ parties could seek a coalition with each other rather than [them]

  27. ‘Labour’s opinion poll vote is always too high in reality ‘

    That was not true in the 2010 election – the polls underestimated Labour.

  28. So let me get this straight…
    Shapps and Cameron are saying vote UKIP get Miliband in no. 10.
    Farage saying vote Tory get Miliband in no. 10.
    Miliband wants everyone to vote Labour to put him in no. 10.
    Who is right?

  29. @ ChrisLane and all the other teachers on here.

    Very proud of my wife today. While UKIP have been celebrating into the small hours we were in bed before 9pm after the trials of an Ofsted inspection had given us about 4 hours sleep on each of the previous two nights.

    When she took over, her school was within 9 months of special measures and class sizes that would have made the LD vote in Clacton seem stunning. This time round she came within a whisker of “Outstanding” while getting outstanding in “leadership” and has a waiting list for the school. Results this year were above National Average and progress was off the scale for an area in the bottom 5% deprivation in the country.

    Aside from results she has given the children opportunities that, because of poverty levels in the area, many of them would never had got the chance to experience.

    I’m very,very proud and teary!

  30. The longer the denial by Labour continues, the more the defections by Labour voters to UKIP will continue.

    Labours failure to recognise, let alone act, in response to losing votes to UKIP will just help the UKIP bandwagon.

  31. Neale

    How many votes did Labour lose to UKIP then?

  32. @northumbrianscot

    I’d go slightly further and recommend that any defectors wait until next year when they could justifiably argue that a by-election would be a huge waste of people’s time and money; what with the general election being so close.

    As far as Rochester is concerned, I think that’s pretty much in the bag for Reckless after both of last night’s results. John Bickley is extremely unlucky not to be UKIP’s first MP under much more unfavourable circumstances that I expect Reckless to have.

  33. People don’t bother to leave their sofa if they’re told there is little point in doing so and “the polls” were telling everybody that Heywood was done and dusted. In a way this result will help Labour as it will remind their supporters that they do need to turn up and vote and that they will in a general election where I would expect to see a big Labour majority in Heywood and it’s like. Sadly for the Tories, this argument cannot be applied to them.

  34. @Neale – it does not matter to Labour as long as they are either equal or slightly ahead of the Conservatives on election day. The reasonable assumption is that if UKIP are siphoning off some Labour support, they are absolutely hoovering it up from the Conservatives, or that most of these things that could possibly happen have happened, and this is reflected in polls.

    I’m not convinced Labour will be losing many more votes to UKIP without the Conservatives losing proportionally more. The Conservative core (or core-ish) vote is far more likely to vote UKIP than that of Labour.

  35. shevII

    Congrats to you both – and her especially.

  36. @Stan J

    Agreed Reckless should win in Rochester, it’s one of those things that apply to less popular parties: if you can prove you can win seats, you start winning more seats.

  37. Leftylampton.

    None, happy?

    You keep telling yourself that for as long as you like….smiles

  38. SHEVII

    You are right to be .

    Many congratulations to your good lady. Your remarks about outcomes for children are spot on.

    That is what it’s all about.


    “On the contrary the two polls we do have show that UKIP attracted substantial votes from Labour…”

    That’ll be the polls which predicted a 19% lead for Labour. Actual votes rather than polls show that Labour increased its vote share whereas Tory, LibDem and BNP share collapsed. Polls predict, they don’t ‘show’ anything.

  40. Keithp,

    It should matter to Labour, given that there is always a national swing back to the Governing party in the last part of a term, Labour may well find themselves 4-5% behind going into the next election.

    From my days canvassing for Michael Foot to win the GE in the early eighties, it saddens me deeply to have seen what my once beloved Labour, has become.

  41. Last night showed again that Labour’s problem is not that it’s going to lose seats to UKIP. Labour’s problem is that it is not going to win many seats off the Conservatives, because UKIP has supplanted Labour as the party of protest.

  42. It’s worth pointing out that between them BNP got 7% of the H&M vote in the GE. Add that to the 3% UKIP took and you have a 10% anti-immigration voter base for UKIP to build on.

    I think we can also be pretty sure that the Tory losses of 15% were mostly in Farage’s direction too. If we assume LD and Labour losses to UKIP were in the same proportion as those shown in national polls (11% and 6% of 2010 voters respectively – which amounts to 2,5% of the H&M vote each) this still leaves the UKIP vote at only 30%. The other 8% had to come from somewhere.

    Surely this 8% was a bit RogerH(differential turnout), a bit of JayBlanc(previous non-voters coming out for UKIP) and a bit RogerMex(Labour to UKIP switchers) – I’ll add that there were probably more LD to UKIP switchers too – the difficult question being how much of each? Not a very answerable question even if you have the readies to fund a poll, I think.

  43. The present political scene reminds me quite a bit of the year leading up to the February 1974 general election.
    On March 1st 1973 Dick Taverne trounced Labour and the Tories at the Lincoln by-election caused by his resignation from Labour as a result of reselection issues related to his pro-Common Market views. I believe his majority was circa 13,000. A year later he did manage to retain his seat but his majority was cut to less than 1,500 and he went on to lose his seat to Margaret Beckett at the October 1974 election.
    1973 was also the best year for the Liberal Party since World War 2. – and the SNP was also performing strongly. Having already won Rochdale and Sutton & Cheam in late 1972, the Liberals gained both Isle of Ely and Ripon on the same day in late July and narrowly captured Berwick on Tweed in October that year. Big gains were made at the Spring local elections including winning control of Liverpool.
    In the aftermath of the Liberal Assembly that Autumn some polls were recording the Liberals at about 30% – very much in contention with the two main parties. Over the winter of 1973/74 – the 3-Day Week period – much of the ground gained was lost as national opinion polarised around Tories/Labour.. When it came to the election campaign, the Liberals enjoyed a further surge of support and ended up with what was easily their best postwar election result to date – 19.5% of the vote having contested over 500 seats. However, the only won 14 seats and surrendered 2 of their 5 by-election gains.
    Food for thought perhaps!

  44. No doubt everyone is ‘listening to the voters’ and ‘will learn lessons’.


    cough, cough

    The big issue is that there are no policy fixes for this for Labour and the Conservatives. They are mired in the toxic political culture of Westminster, and it is this driving the discontent.

    They can promise a different approach to immigration and Europe, They can promise that with jam on, and bells and whistles attached too. It makes no difference – too many electors won’t believe them.

  45. @NEALE

    “It should matter to Labour, given that there is always a national swing back to the Governing party in the last part of a term…”

    Not always.

  46. @SERGIO

    “Last night showed again that Labour’s problem is not that it’s going to lose seats to UKIP. Labour’s problem is that it is not going to win many seats off the Conservatives, because UKIP has supplanted Labour as the party of protest.”

    If Labour are in second place behind the Tories and UKIP take votes off the Tories then Labour may win that seat from the Tories.

  47. DP had a decent piece on GE polling with PK and Stephen Fisher making sensible contributions (plus a chortle moment with a twig).

    Both (ROC) guests plumped for Lab/LD coalition as most likely but to be fair with no conviction.

  48. ” …mired in the toxic political culture of Westminster”

    Sounds like a variation on the “tired old two-party politics” line which LD traded on until reality caught up with them.

  49. @RogerH

    “If Labour are in second place behind the Tories and UKIP take votes off the Tories then Labour may win that seat from the Tories.”

    Labour may win a handful of seats in this way, but, as I said, not many. On the evidence of Eastleigh and Clacton, UKIP will take a significant chunk of both the Tory and anti-Tory vote and my guess is that in most Tory seats the net effect will be a nil sum game. Protest votes in the South are going to UKIP not Labour.

  50. Ben Foley fpt

    Your memory re ‘Common Wealth’ winning by-elections prior to Orpington in1962 is roughly 20 years out . CW won a few by- elections during the war against the incumbent coalition party, whichever one it happened to be.
    CW’s most interesting M.P. was Ernest Millington DFC, an RAF Wing Commander and Lancaster pilot.

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