Today is the Rochester and Strood by-election. After every by-election I see the same questions and I write essentially the same post. Given that, I thought I might as well write it before the result: whatever happens in the Rochester and Strood by-election it won’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about public opinion.

By-elections are very unusual beasts. They are fought with huge intensity and media attention, but with very little direct consequence – the government will still be the government the next day, it’s only one single seat that can change hands. They also often have unusual local circumstances – in this case a defecting member of Parliament. When a by-election behaves in line with the national polls, it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. When it behaves differently to the national polls, it’s probably because of the unique factors of by-election.

Assuming that the by-election polls from Ashcroft, ComRes and Survation are all correct and Mark Reckless wins tonight’s by-election we’ll probably see lots of comments tomorrow about UKIP doing well and being a threat to the Conservatives. I’d also expect lots of comments about how Labour didn’t win when they should have. Plus perhaps some comments about the derisory vote the Lib Dems will almost certainly get. Perhaps they’ll finish behind the Greens or even the Loonies or random independents.

To take those one at a time, UKIP are not likely to do as well nationwide in a general election as in a by-election where they have an incumbent MP, so this won’t tell us anything about their likely level of support come the general election – nor will it help answer the question of how concentrated their vote will be, and how well it will translate into returning MPs to Westminster. In terms of Labour, this is the sort of seat that an opposition doing really well in the polls and headed for a landslide win could reasonably expect to win… but we don’t need a by-election to tell us that Labour are not soaring ahead in the polls, and are not currently in a position that would translate to a landslide win. We already know that they are struggling to maintain first place in the polls and are seeing the anti-government vote split between them and other parties. As for the Liberal Democrats, the embarrassment of finishing lower than 4th place and losing their deposit is no longer anything new for them and doesn’t tell us anything new about the dire straights they find themselves in.

The other thing I invariably say after explaining how by-elections tell us virtually nothing about wider public opinion is that it doesn’t make the result any less important. A lot of politics is about the press narrative, about Westminster personalities and morale and in all those senses tonight’s result really does matter – if UKIP do really well it should keep UKIP’s momentum rolling, help them persuade voters they are a viable choice at the election. Perhaps we’ll see them get a boost in the polls from the publicity. Perhaps it will give the Conservative party’s morale a knock, perhaps encourage another defection(s) and turn the media pressure back onto David Cameron after an unpleasant few weeks for Ed Miliband. By-elections are very important – but because of their effect on the narrative, not because they really tell us much about wider public opinion.


884 Responses to “Today’s Rochester and Strood by-election”

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  1. ‘Today is the Rochester and Strood by-election. After every by-election I see the same questions and I write essentially the same post.’

    should read –

    ‘Today is Thursday. After every poll I see the same questions and I write essentially the same post.’

  2. AT BERNARD SIMPSON
    You have an option Mr Simpson.

  3. BS
    Agreed.

    I think people on this site realise its only a by election, and tomorrow its business as usually.

  4. I’m not so sure of the nature of any UKIP boost after their likely by election win. I guess it keeps them in the headlines and firms up their current support but Clacton was probably the biggie and this is more of a re-enforcement than a massive breakthrough.

    With Labour woes at the moment the Tories may be a little more chilled than they might otherwise have been. Much depends on whether there are many more defectors.

    As for a few posts on the last thread predicting a surprise- there were 3 polls with clear UKIP leads (I think the last one may have been after postal ballots were issued?), a bookie paying out already on Reckless and Gove betting on the Tories to demonstrate his credentials for wealth redistribution. A surprise just doesn’t seem possible.

    Maybe we should invent a UKPR term for election days producing a euphoric air of misplaced optimism/pessimism.

  5. Still think Labour will win this one, I have faith in Ed

  6. Maninthemiddle

    That would be EIhavefaithd. An interesting neologism. :-(

  7. Man in the Middle,
    So on a polling site you take no notice of the polls.Quaint.

  8. More interesting than the result is “Did the pollsters get UKIP voteshare right?”

    I accept there might be some late drift but there was some time between the first and last poll and they all had UKIP about 40%.

    If UKIP get more than 45% or less than 35% there might at least be a question mark over how close pollsters get to the mark. It might be due to late swing or late reverse swing, always tricky to play, it might be that the pollsters are playing down the wrong line.

  9. Ann in Wales

    I think MitM may have been posting humorously.

  10. Nice cricketing analogy Alan!

  11. @Colin (fpt) – “I love those Apocalyptic posts on UKPR.

    The ones that go:-”

    @NigeDevlin – “Labour are pretty much dead as a force anywhere below Peterborough”
    @The Other Howard – “I could not see either Labour or the LibDems being a force in UK politics for a considerable period.”

    @Colin (cont.) – “I picture a self satisfied, narcissistic nod, as the writer reaches for his pint of Old Miner’s Sweat, and settles down to await the next opportunity to proclaim his growing certainty about something.”

  12. @OldNat – No humour around here please, this is a serious occasion!

  13. Shevii

    “Maybe we should invent a UKPR term for election days producing a euphoric air of misplaced optimism/pessimism.”

    How about “Rapture”? In the US Evangelical sense of the righteous being raised to heaven on the appointed date – sadly to bump down to earth when it didn’t happen after all.

  14. @OldNat – “Apocalypse” might work better at capturing both the optimism and pessimism.

  15. Chris Green

    Might well do.

    On another matter, what happens to the pension of an MP who voluntarily resigns as an MP, then gets elected again? Does the calculation of pension entitlement change at all?

  16. “In terms of Labour, this is the sort of seat that an opposition doing really well in the polls and headed for a landslide win could reasonably expect to win… but we don’t need a by-election to tell us that Labour are not soaring ahead in the polls, and are not currently in a position that would translate to a landslide win. We already know that they are struggling to maintain first place in the polls and are seeing the anti-government vote split between them and other parties”
    ______

    This is very true but at least I would had expected the Labour vote to go up a notch bearing in mind the anti government vote is being split between Labour and other parties.

    Anything less then surely questions have to be asked why Labour are not picking up the anti Tory vote!!

  17. Colin
    FPT Thanks for the link to Kellner. He wrote:
    “It wasn’t that people then were passionately for Europe and proportional representation, just that they were fed up with the main parties.”

    That was a reference to pro Lib Dem voter enthusiasm (mania?).

    It’s the first time I have read a respected commentator express what I thought were the only distinctive components of policy that separated the LDs from the others. We’ve moved on a bit, thinking of Greens and SNP for instance. Perhaps, after May 2015, the Conservatives will have those two policies as well?

    That would of course probably result in a split, but I have this idea that the Conservative Party does not tolerate splits. In other words it would somehow absorb the new situation. This I hope, displays my respect for it as a party.

  18. Old Nat,
    I do actually realise that!

  19. @Allan Christie – The nature of FPTP politics is that almost all seats reduce to a two-way fight, with the third-placed party squeezed out. I know that you know this.

  20. Ann in Wales

    Sorry. Your dry humour was too dry for me, and I mistook it for a serious post.

    We really need something to indicate all those nuances of normal interaction – the twinkle in the eye, the wry smile etc.

  21. Prediction for R&S

    UKIP….41%

    TORY…36%

    LABOUR.. 18%

    GRN..3%

    MONSTER..1%

    OTHERS… ¾%

    LIB/DEM… ¼%

  22. Maninthemiddle

    Typical desperate head in the sand Labour supporter.

    As someone said there are over 20% of the population that would vote for a pig wearing a red hat if he was the Labour leader.

  23. Chris Green

    Thanks, but unless I misunderstood it, the article doesn;’t seem to cover Reckless and the other guy in Clacton.

  24. @Allan Christie – UKIP’s results have been a few % higher than the final polling average in most recent by-elections. Why do you think R&S will be an exception?

    My prediction, FWIW:

    UKIP 46%
    CON 33%
    LAB 15%
    GRN 2%
    LIBD 2%
    OTH 2%

  25. Nick, Oldnat, Robyn Ann, Amber want you to listen to what Penn says

    “Maninthemiddle
    Typical desperate head in the sand Labour supporter.”

  26. I like how before every vote concerning UKIP is about to have the results come out, a blog appears on here telling us why it doesn’t mean anything.

  27. Old Nat,
    Well we are not allowed to use those little emoticons.Not that I would know how to anyway.

  28. @OldNat – I understood the important line to be, “MPs will normally receive a pension of either 1/40th or 1/50th of their final pensionable salary“.

  29. CHRIS GREEN
    @Allan Christie – The nature of FPTP politics is that almost all seats reduce to a two-way fight, with the third-placed party squeezed out. I know that you know this
    ________

    I’m only suggesting a notch or two upwards for Labour, it’s not a big ask considering they held the seat until 2010.

  30. @OldNat – The info is basically repeated here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/m05.pdf

    Emphasis still on the final salary.

  31. Ann in Wales

    I’ll just imagine that twinkle in your eye in future then. :-)

  32. CHRIS GREEN
    @Allan Christie – UKIP’s results have been a few % higher than the final polling average in most recent by-elections. Why do you think R&S will be an exception?
    _______

    Just a slight hunch the Tory vote will hold up better than the polls are suggesting because of the length of time they had to defend the seat.

  33. Well if we had ever heard of Penn before tonight ,perhaps we might do so.Or
    perhaps not.

  34. CHRISGREEN

    You have the LIB/DEMS winning 2%, a full 1¾% up on my prediction

    Any reason for giving them such a high %? ;-) .

  35. @Allan Christie – That’s not how FPTP works. And again as you know full well, the Rochester & Strood seat has only ever been held by one man, with a 21% majority.

  36. Chris Green

    Did he get a Resettlement Allowance when he resigned, and will he get another one if he loses in May?

    btw I didn’t mean to ask you to do my research for me. These are kind of idle questions, so apologies if I’ve given you extra work.

  37. Ann in Wales

    I detected a distinct twinkle in that last post. :-)

  38. When is the result expected?

  39. @Allan Christie – The Lib Dem vote has been roughly at the polling average in recent by-elections. Tribal Lib Dems have high turnout. So I think that 2% is a reasonable estimate, given recent polling. I did put their 2% “behind” the Green 2%, though!

  40. Ann in Wales

    Not open to new thoughts,

    Another weak Labour trait.

  41. AC
    I think you have a point (about length of campaign). There was certainly a hiatus from the beginning of November and whether it went to sleep in R and S as well as the rest of the country, I don’t know, but I do have a feeling that voters, having been reawakened, may be just a little fed up with it all. That is not good news for someone trying to work up a Welsh ‘hywel’. Hope I spelt that correctly.

  42. CHRIS GREEN

    Both posts…..

    1st …Of course I understand FPTP and the 3rd party squeeze but there is nothing like a little ole bit of spin before the vote.

    2nd…”Tribal Lib Dems have high turnout. So I think that 2% is a reasonable estimate”
    ….
    It’s not a very big tribe even at 2%.

  43. Genuine request for help in understanding something in English politics.

    I’m seeing tweets about a Labour MP tweeting a photograph from Rochester showing a house with English flags.

    It seems to have stirred up a lot of controversy, but I don’t really understand why.

    I presume this is something to do with the “cultural politics” of England, and cultural issues are hard for outsiders to comprehend.

  44. @Oldnat

    She’s mocking him for waving the English flag. She seems him as a “thuggish working class” type. Everyone is laughing at her, as she is marginalising the people she is supposed to represent.

    Typical labour cock-up really. No wonder they’ve gone from 45% to 29% in two years.

  45. RAF (and to those predicting the result)

    Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can
    Tomorrow brings the winner, and the also-ran.

  46. Skippy

    “She’s mocking him for waving the English flag”

    On my occasional trips to England, I’ve seen a lot more English flags in recent years. Why is it seen as a problem?

  47. RAF,
    Bramley posted on the other thread that it would be about 3-30am.

  48. R&S Prediction

    UKIP 43
    Cons 27
    Lab 21
    Green 7
    LD 2

    Just really based on the debate performance. The polls were before the debates, so there should be a drop in the Tory score, Tory voters won’t vote Labour, if people don’t like Tolhurst they will either go for the Lib Dems or the Greens and not UKIP. The Labour campaign also started late, so they claw back a few points from UKIP.

  49. OldNat

    Prior to, er, a while ago, displaying any such flag marked one down as a nutter or an Empire Loyalist (but usually they displayed UJs).

    Latterly choose from BNP, EDL, or any football thug type.

    That’s the image.

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