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. @OldNat

    Pressman and his other ultimate boss isn’t really that bothered by Trident. It’s pretty clear that if the SNP insisted on its line, the issue would just be kicked into the long grass by a Labour minority government keen to implement its wider programme. What Pressman’s boss would be far more keen on would be for the SNP to make demands that would cause the early fall of a Labour minority government i.e. the SNP making constitutional demands that a Labour government could not accede to without too high an electoral price by virtue of causing a backlash across England.

  2. Isn’t it time the UKPR polling average was updated?

  3. This is getting complicated.

    We now have to apply the Haines test first to see whether Mrs Pressman is actually concerned about something before we can apply the Pressman test.

  4. KeithP
    “Isn’t it time the UKPR polling average was updated?””


  5. @COUPER2802

    Many thanks – that is very helpful in understanding the situation :)

  6. Lab has 3pt lead in Opinium/Obs poll, taken before Roch/Str result. Lab +1, 33, Con +1, 30, Ukip n/c, 19. LD -2, 7, SNP +1, 5, Green n/c, 4.

  7. It will get updated now that labour have had another poll with them leading…

  8. @ Couper 2802

    If we need a rainbow of Lab+SNP+LD+Green+SDLP than I am also happy with that.
    A good analysis from you to Syzygy – except you didn’t mention that it is the largest Party which gets the opportunity to form a coalition first.

    Therefore those who vote SNP in Scotland thinking they’ll be holding Labour’s feet to the fire, may end up with a Tory+UKIP+/orDUP+/orLD coalition instead because they’ve reduced the initial tally of Labour MPs. I wonder whether they’ll be quite so happy with that….

  9. Amber

    The existing PM gets the first chance to form a government – not the largest party.

    Your thesis, therefore, falls.

  10. Ciderman

    I hope you are right. The SNP do seem to be trying to face both ways on independence vs devo max, but I think 2015 might be a bit soon for them to be rumbled.

  11. Opinium tables show not only approval of the GB party leaders overall – but also by their own supporters.

    Miliband at 31% among Lab supporters lower than Clegg among LDs.

  12. @Amber Star

    If the LoC parties have enough to form a majority then the right wing can’t also be in that position. But such a GE outcome might deliver more devolution to Scotland – as long as it can survive a confidence vote – because Cons have better devo proposal than Labour & SNP could hide behind not voting on English matters. However on a confidence vote SNP would have to vote against the Cons.

    The SNP will actually be in a weak position C&S to a Labour minority as politcally they could not bring them down so Labour don’t have to offer them much. So, if SNP get a lot of seats in May they will be in extremely difficult shark infested political waters.

  13. RAF

    Nigel Farage is saying that Ukip did not win in Tory Rochester but in Labour Strood

    Far be it from me to unite the Kentish Men with the Men of Kent, but there’s very little difference between the two sides of the river. If you look at the 2011 Council Results:

    The Conservatives got 56% of the share of the two-Party vote in the three Rochester wards and 58% in the three Strood ones. Adding River to the Rochester wards doesn’t disturb the percentages. The parts of the constituency are about as Tory as each other.

    How the votes went in the by-election may be different and all we have to go on is the reports of those tallying at the count at the verification stage. Unusually we had a simultaneous local by-election, but clearly there were local issues in Peninsular ward (not in either total) that would have helped UKIP, though was not Labour territory anyway[1]. So it doesn’t say much about the rest of the constituency.

    But polling indicates more Con votes going to UKIP than Lab, even though there does seem to have been some tactical Lab to UKIP voting. So Farage is almost certainly talking nonsense both geographically and psephologically. Though probably not in terms of the message he wanted to put across.

    [1] The English Democrats did best there in 2011 which would also hint at UKIP potential. Oddly enough one of the ED candidates in 2011 was the losing Conservative candidate in the ward by-election. R&S Tories really are trying to out-kipper UKIP, with no great success.

  14. Re the Thornberry Tweet. It never fails to surprise me how bad at Social Media senior politicians are.

    A couple of years ago a friend asked me to help him out with his nascent political career. The first thing I did was tell him to delete his existing Twitter and Facebook accounts (littered with impolite comments about the opposition and risqué posts done while a drunk student) and start new profiles on both.

    The advice I gave him was from now on to visualise everything he ever posted next to a big picture of himself on the front page of the Daily Record (a Scottish newspaper M’lud). This has kept him on the straight and narrow and he is now employed by an eminence grise of LiS and is an elected representative.

    If I can sort a friend out with a workable Social Media political strategy surely the Shadow Cabinet can do so too?

    Good Evening to you; we give the same advice in school to our students; the Recruiting Companies trawl the ‘net’ to check records.

    In terms of voting intention, it will, I think, add to the ‘anti westminster’ brigade.

    Matthew Parris has written a vg article on the ‘Right’ today.

  16. opinium poll interesting. it would have been good for the tories to have been neck and neck or slightly ahead

    a 3 point labour lead now, if that really is the case, leads to polls being neck and neck at GE…we have barely 5 and a half months left…

    the tories need to be slightly ahead by new year to have a really good shot at the largest party.

    If labour recover in scotland minimising losses to 5 seats or fewer, they will almost certainly be the largest party next year.

  17. @ Old Nat

    The existing PM gets the first chance to form a government – not the largest party.

    Your thesis, therefore, falls.
    Actually that makes my point even more forcibly: Vote for a Labour majority or you’ll get a Tory (led) government.

  18. Austin Mitchell MP spoke powerfully on BBC Radio at Five PM, very interesting he was, in his observations about the Labour Party, and not at all disheartened.

  19. Amber

    Since neither an LiS nor an SNP MP will join in a coalition with the Tories (though I wouldn’t be too sure about the Lis ones!), then it makes no difference whatever to the likelihood of Cameron successfully forming a Government.

    Your point would only make sense in terms of a split ABT vote in Scotland producing a Tory MP. In which case abandon your support for a minority party in Scotland, and vote SNP! :-)

  20. Scotland Scotland Scotland Scotland…. Yawn.

  21. Surely it is only a technicality who gets first try at forming a government? If multiple parties want to form a government and have a majority then they will end up governing simply because they will no confidence the ones who tried first.

  22. David Colby

    Goodnight. sleep well.

  23. Shevii

    I don’t think you thought that one through.

    If Cameron can put together a coalition or a C&S arrangement that is stable enough then those other parties can’t outvote them in a confidence vote.

    If he can’t then someone else (Miliband) gets to have a go. If he can’t either, then we have an interesting situation!

  24. Northumbrian Scot and Chris Lane

    I wonder if mittens are the answer – ie if politicians Tweet out of turn you get 3 months in mittens to stop you tweeting : if Emily had to don the mittens publicly, I doubt she’ d make the same mistake twice. There may be some serial offenders where more drastic measures are required but it would be inappropriate to suggest them here and even less so on Twitter.

  25. Oh dear ,
    Hazel Blears has come out in support of EM.Well that’s him done for then.

  26. Couper2802 – “We have had it drummed into us throughout the referendum campaign that it doesnt matter what Scotland votes we will get what rUK votes for and indeed that is true. Scotland returned 41 Labour MPs out of 59 in 2010 and we still ended up with a Tory government.”

    Actually you ended up with a Coalition govt that boasted 12 MPs from Scotland! Indeed without the Scottish contribution there wouldn’t have been any coalition!

    The truth is that until now all parts of Britain have contributed to the govt of the day, though I can see why some parties wish to pretend otherwise!

    The next govt might be the first ever that has not got any Scottish input at all.

  27. Welsh Borderer

    Brillant ideeea.

    sory foe tyyypos. Dam hard to tyype in thees mittens,.

  28. Candy

    Yeah, let’s ignore these folk from Northern Ireland – bloody foreigners!

  29. Those NI folk are actually Scots who think it’s still pre 1700! If you want to know what Scotland was like pre Union you only have to look at them!

    Seriously, NI is a special case, they’ve been murdering each other as recently as ten years ago. It would be lovely if they could abandon sectarian voting and vote on issues like everyone else – at which point, they would be able to be part of govts like other mature parties.

  30. Candy

    Actually you ended up with a Coalition govt that boasted 12 MPs from Scotland! Indeed without the Scottish contribution there wouldn’t have been any coalition!

    Um, no. Con 307 + LD 57 = 364 – 12 = 352, which is more than 325. So still a majority even if Scotland returned all 59 Labour.

  31. Candy

    You may not have noticed but SF and DUP are in government. Indeed, since they are in a power sharing arrangement that seems much more mature than Westminster – the place that decided to go out to other parts of the world and murder people there.

  32. Reports circulating tonight that Gordon Brown won’t stand again.

    Even the most optimistic calculations for the SNP didn’t include gaining his seat. I had been expecting this, since I couldn’t see him wanting to actually have to attend the HoC on a regular basis, as is usually required in a hung Parliament.

  33. Are there any other polls expected tonight, as well as YG?

  34. YouGov:

    CON 33 (-1)
    LAB 33 (=)
    UKIP 16 (+1)
    LDEM 7 (=)
    GRN 6 (=)

  35. Ann in Wales 21.21

    Snap. Those were my first thoughts too. I thought she would realise but they don’t do they?

    Perhaps Valerie, who is up there somewhere, will tell us how she is viewed. I was amazed she sailed back in last time, but I’ve looked at her constituency and her nearest challenger was a LD and 6000 votes behind. No probs there then.

    So she can do as she likes, i suppose.

  36. OldNat
    Forgetting GB himself for a moment, I just think it is right OOO to give up your incumbency with just a few months to go and expect some poor sod to drum up support in that time. Standing under FPTP as a newling needs at least two years of committed effort, attending all those veterans suppers, grabbing all those local causes celebre as one’s own, and suchlike.

  37. So no R&S impact yet on the polls. I guess it’s still too early.

  38. As we’re all discussing Northern Ireland tonight (and to stop David Colby falling asleep ;-)) worth us all considering the possibility that Sinn Fein could gain one or both of Foyle or Belfast North taking them to 6 or 7 seats.

    Winning either of these seats would bring the effective majority required target down another notch to 322. This is calculated as 50%+1 of 642 or 643. (650 excluding Speaker + Sinn Fein).

    Current effective majority is 323. If Sinn Fein had a bad night and lost Fermanagh & South Tyrone – majority 4 (would require another Unionist Unity candidate to be agreed) then the effective majority would still stay as 323. It’s very unlikely that Sinn Fein will get less than 4 MPs.

    Other thing to bear in mind is that NI usually counts the next day so in a very close election we may not know which parties can form a coalition until we get the Foyle, F&ST and Belfast North results on Friday afternoon.

  39. Howard,
    Agreed,despicable woman.

  40. Both polls in then, looks like polldrums.

    The Opera this evening was superb, wonderful singing, life can be such a joy. Night all.

  41. @Statgeek & oldnat – You are clearly right that on the figures that Oldnat posted a formal coalition led by Labour is unlikely. I would still like Labour to, as it were, craft a manifesto that such a coalition should support.

  42. TOH:
    Night to you; the football was good too, for the Reds, unlike the polls here.

  43. ON

    Nice of you to point out the convention on who gets first dibs after a hung election.

    In practice of course, convention counts for nowt. The negotiations and manoeuvring take place in backrooms, not in the Chamber. The decisions are made long before any vote in the House. And the decision on who cuts a deal with whom is down to hard-headed self-interest of all the parties involved.

    Convention counted for nowt when Jeremy Thorpe refused to pick up the phone to answer Heath in Feb 74. It counted for nowt when Clegg and Laws were deciding to get into bed with the Tories in 2010.

  44. @Old Nat
    “This is getting complicated.
    We now have to apply the Haines test first to see whether Mrs Pressman is actually concerned about something before we can apply the Pressman test.”

    Just follow the rules of “Mornington Crescent” and you’ll have no problem with the Pressman Test.

  45. @Ann in Wales and @Howard

    See below Electoral Calculus’s predictiom for Salford and Eccles in 2015

    As suspected, it’s set to be a very comfortable Hazel hold, Ukip surge notwithstanding.

  46. “You may not have noticed but SF and DUP are in government. Indeed, since they are in a power sharing arrangement that seems much more mature than Westminster – the place that decided to go out to other parts of the world and murder people there.”

    Right. It’s going to be another one of THOSE nights is it?

  47. @Northumbrianscot

    Assuming the trend towards DUP and SF dominance in NI continues it would not be surprising to see Belfast East go back to the DUP. I don’t know if they are running a candidate in North Down this time – in 2010 they didn’t to support Lady Hermon who, I assume, will be running again. If they do they will surely stand a good chance there.

    I note that the SDLP are introducing amendments to the Recall of MPs Bill that would replace the current oath/ affirmation with a parliamentary pledge, similar to that given by doctors etc. Obviously the effect would be to remove the barrier to SF taking their seats. I very much doubt it will be accepted but worth keeping an eye on… if the left need a few more supporters after the GE they could then be tempted!

  48. Just to line up with the smug people at the Opera etc,Fed and Stan wiped the
    floor with the French Davis Cup tonight.Hoppi Suisse.

  49. Phil Haines

    We are in agreement! I was just about to post that we shouldn’t assume that SF won’t see advantage in appearing on occasions this time.

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