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. Sadly for me as a site veteran, tyrying to catch up with threads after being absent for a day or to is impossible even if I try to skip the posts by the most prolific.
    Could a 10 posts per contibutor fix be installed to stop the (often overnight but now weekends as well)) barrage from some posters?

  2. Lefty

    Of course the deals are done in vapour filled back rooms! it doesn’t make any difference to the fact that if Cameron can assure Lizzie that he can command a majority, then he remains PM until a vote of confidence knocks him off his perch.

  3. @ OldNat

    Not following you.

    If smaller parties want to deal with Cameron on a C&S basis then he gets it, if smaller parties don’t then he doesn’t get it. I don’t see why being first in the queue to try for a C&S makes the slightest bit of difference.

  4. @JimJam

    Like soap operas and the news catch-up is not necessary as everything of significance is repeated a few times a day.

  5. Ah yes, Hazel Blears. Whose idea of being in touch with the masses is troughing expenses, and then making amends by posing with a massive cheque to pay it back.. Presumably she found the money down the back of her sofa.

  6. Shevii

    The difference is that smaller parties don’t have to sign up to support either Lab or Con.

    If enough decide to sign up to neither side, then minority government becomes inevitable, and there may be no good reason for Lizzie to send for Miliband if he has no better chance.

    That’s why incumbency matters.

  7. With regards Sinn Fein taking up their seats I suspect we’ll know either way before the election which way they intend to go.

    A longstanding policy like that can’t be abandoned without flagging it up to your supporters well in advance.

    I suspect they (Sinn Fein) would probably prefer to keep the status quo and the “parliamentary pledge” legislation from SDLP is a clever little test to try and change the situation just enough to create splits in the Sinn Fein ranks on Abstention for their own benefit.

    Glad we’re all enjoying talking about all 4 parts of the UK tonight. :-)

  8. JimJam
    It’s easy, just make a note of the posters who just say the same things in every post, together with some irrelevant comment about something else, just to make it sound as the posts are different from one another. Having clocked those names (you haven’t already?) just flip over them. Only a few hundred left after that.

  9. One reason why Sinn Fein might take their seats (mind you I thought it might have happened by now) is because they are increasingly likely to be powerful in the next Dail (election probably April 2016). They actually led in the last poll and are joint first with Fine Gael in tomorrow’s RedC[1]

    In that situation a presence at Westminster would look less strange, though I would imagine it would have to handled carefully to avoid the defection of more fundamentalist members.

    On a different topic, Blears is actually standing down next year, no doubt to avoid the prospect of certain defeat by Bez.

    [1] Technically led by ‘Others’ on 27% which shows just how divided the current Irish political landscape is.

  10. @ Old Nat

    I understand now but with the possible exception of UKIP (who might argue they want nothing to do with the “Westminster elite”) I don’t think any of the other parties will just sit on their hands and do nothing.

    If it is in their hands to decide who runs the country they will be judged on an abstention that lets one party in just as much as if they had voted for a particular party to run the country. Well I know I would anyway.

  11. @ Northumbrianscot

    “A longstanding policy like that can’t be abandoned without flagging it up to your supporters well in advance.”

    Except if it’s to do with tuition fees…

  12. @ Old Nat

    You were being deliberately obtuse in your last comment to me. You know that the more Labour MPs there are from Scotland, the more likely it is that Labour will have a majority. It’s that simple. And absent a Labour majority, it’ll be a Tory minority government or a Tory led coalition.

  13. ON
    Point taken on incumbency and minority Govts. Although in practice, I struggle to imagine a scenario in which any part would go into the House as minority administration without first having made some back room agreement with the smaller parties that they wouldn’t bring down the Govt in an immediate confidence vote. It would be too humiliating to have that happen.

    Which brings us to the SNP. Since the Dear Leader, in the speech that marked her succession over the Great Leader said:

    “My pledge to Scotland today is simple – the SNP will never, ever, put the Tories into government,”

    I assume that the SNP would undoubtedly vote against a Tory minority Govt in a confidence vote. There can be no other interpretation of that pledge.

  14. @Roger Mexico
    “On a different topic, Blears is actually standing down next year, no doubt to avoid the prospect of certain defeat by Bez.”

    I never took you to be a Happy Mondays fan.

  15. The latest You Gov put the 5 poll average as follows:

    Con – 33.2%
    Lab – 33.0%

    Probability of Con Lead – 39%
    Probability of Lab Lead – 25%
    Probability of tie – 36%

    Any fallout of the by-election is yet to be seen…

  16. Howard
    That’s naughty.

    I always read yours and Jim jam’s posts.

    Re Hazel Blears. I think she’s safe. She keeps a low profile up here – is usually mouthing off down in London. Voter apathy will probably save her.
    It’s Graham Stringer who gEts on people’s nerves. Always whinging about something.
    He used to be leader of Manchesster City council. Amazing how the town has prospered since he left to become an MP.

  17. Roger M
    Well seen, I missed that, well, nice pension for her to which to look towards.

  18. Valerie
    See Roger’s post.

  19. Northumbrianscot

    I wouldn’t anticipate SF needing or wanting (for the reasons you describe) to make any such announcement in advance of the unknowable results of the UK GE.

    They are astute politicians, and would see no point in attending HoC unless there was something to be gained.

    However, they, like the DUP and SDLP are keen on further devolution to Northern Ireland, and have already been in informal discussions with the Scottish Government on a Scottish/NI alternative to what the SDLP have described as the “English & Welsh” model of social welfare.

    Of course, if the HoC turns out to be much of the same old, they would see no point in joining in, so much better to wait to see what the English voters do, and then decide if there is an opportunity.

  20. Hi everyone, just back from lovely evening in chiringuita on beach, disappointed that there is no YouGov to enjoy, I’ll try to endure the tension until it arrives. Hasta luego, Ken.

  21. Regarding my list of which newspapers supported which party at the 2010 election, I was slightly wrong. For one thing, I forgot the Sun newspaper.

    That is one more Conservative supporting newspaper. However, I put the Star down as Conservative supporting, when in fact it did n’t support any party.

    Therefore the total of Conservative -supporting newspapers is still eleven.

    There are still two Labour-supporting newspapers, the Mirror and Sunday Mirror. There is a third, the Morning Star, but I think that is a difficult paper to find on sale.

    There are two Liberal Democrat-supporting newspapers – the Guardian and its stable-mate the Observer.

    Five newspapers did not support any party. They were the Sunday People, the Daily Star, the Sunday Star and the Independent and the Sunday Independent.

    Eleven newspapers supported one party – the Conservatives. Four newspapers, or five if you include the Morning Star, supported other parties. Five newspapers did not support any party.

    Therefore if you think of it as votes, 11 votes out of 16 – 68 per cent – are for the Conservative party. The other newspapers did not vote.

    In terms of First Past the Post, other parties would have no chance with figures like that. However, as the results of the General Election show, and as opinion polls show, voters do not follow the newspapers preferences. It makes me think the newspapers are not on the same wavelength as the public. I wonder if they ever were at some time in the past.

  22. Amber

    I apologise for responding to what you said, instead of what you meant.

  23. @ Old Nat

    I apologise for responding to what you said, instead of what you meant.
    Thank you. You have been married for long enough to know that’s what’s expected of you. ;-)

  24. Adge3,

    I don’t remember the Observer supporting the LibDems at the last election. Didn’t they declined to support anyone? I might have remembered that wrong.

  25. Amber


  26. It’s fairly obvious that the press are far more influential than posters on here give them credit for, they are the opinion formers, like it or not, so, if they decide to hammer Ed M, then Ed M is toast, I happen to agree with them, but not because they say so, but because I believe it. :-)

  27. Thanks Valerie and Howard.

    Problem is with skimming I am certain I miss many good posts between the point sorcing and deliberate obtuseness (is that a word that I try to avoid.

    Seems to me close to next and neck – need to wait a week for any possible affect for R&S to abate.

    Still all to play for.

  28. Hal

    No, definitely the LDs, as evidenced in their editorial

    Citizens have votes. Newspapers do not. However, if the Guardian had a vote in the 2010 general election it would be cast enthusiastically for the Liberal Democrats.

  29. @Ken

    They keep hammering away but as far as I can tell EM is as Stevi might say “Still Standing”.

  30. @ADGE3

    Well if that many newspapers were supporting the Tories in 2010 and most are still does it not tell us something?

    1) They got it right in 2010, Labour lost

    2) Just why are they against Labour, if Labour have this great leader and great ideas as a party why have they lost the support of the papers and more importantly the public.

  31. RAF………Were I a Labour supporter, I would despair, Ed is a liability and no amount of spin will change the fact.

  32. RAF

    Politically partisan media “hammer” other parties and their leaders.

    What’s new?

  33. OLDNAT………..What’s wrong with being partisan ????

  34. Ken

    Apart from blinding people to alternative ways of thinking about the world – absolutely nothing! :-)

  35. @Ken
    You say that it is obvious that the press is far more influential than posters on here give them credit for.

    Well, I would say that posters on here do seem to consider that the press is influential. It is because of what posters say on here that I look up the references – Myleen Klass, Hazel Blears etc.

    I would n’t bother drawing it to people’s attention, except to point out the absurdity of it.

    Some years ago, the BBC’s political editor John Cole admitted that he no longer read the “red tops” . It would seem to me that you could treat the rest of the press in the same way nowadays.

  36. OLDNAT…….All those question marks were as a result of me entering a little yellow emoticon, I thought I’d cracked it for a moment. :-)

  37. @Ken,

    Just dropped in myself, albeit from a rather less glamorous location! Scanning the thread, it would appear, according to OldNat, that the weekend YouGov has a 33/33 Lab/Tory dead heat with UKIP at 16%. No obvious Rochester effect yet, but it could be we have to wait until next week to be sure that there isn’t one. Opinium are the only other pollster publishing this weekend and they have a 3% Labour lead.

    Throwing in these two weekend polls, I make that 11 polls in the last seven or eight days, 4 giving narrow Tory leads, 1 a dead heat and 6 showing Labour leads ranging between 1 and 4%. Interestingly, or not as the case may be, the three most recent polls have one dead heat (YouGov) and two (Populus and Opinium) showing 3% Labour leads. Labour death certificate still to be signed off it would appear!

    That said, it has been a spectacularly poor month or so for Labour and their only consolation must be the the continuing Tory and Lib Dem woes. Of course, there are two ways of looking at this; cheer for Cameron that Labour have declined to within reach of a still floundering Tory vote but, vice versa, breathing space for Miliband as it appears that his nose is still in front despite a steep fall in Labour’s support. My footballing metaphor of a relegation battle between two poor teams still applies. Meanwhile, FTPT prevents UKIP and the Greens being promoted. The rules prevent them from getting on to pitch to really compete!

    It seems to me that we’re going to battle and muddle on like this right up to next May and it’s very difficult to see how either Labour or the Tories are going to improve much on their current positions. Looking back to May 2010, I think a lot of us may have missed the key message that lay deep within that extraordinary result. The old trusty political pendulum is bust. A deeply unpopular government was ejected, but not in favour of the main opposition party who only increased their vote share by a paltry 3.5% and were forced into coalition. Barely 66% of the electorate backed the two old parties. The undoubted mood for change didn’t greatly benefit the main opposition party and May 2015 may see this happen again. I think there is a large chunk of the electorate who would like to see the back of this coalition government, never greatly loved even at birth, but I think the desire for change will find no single source of energy. The smaller parties, SNP, UKIP and Greens will be major beneficiaries, as might Labour be on the back of a fading but still significant ex-LibDem influx of support, but the result will probably be a desperate and incoherent muddle.

    We may be entering a period where our politics resembles that of Italy in the 70s and 80s; a series of unstable and ineffectual coalitions. I only wish our football could mirror that period of Italian history too.

    Causio, Rossi, Tardelli……………………Gli Azzurri! :-)

  38. OLDNAT……..You know better than to patronise, being partisan is human. We’re not all perfect. :-)

  39. Ken

    I had taken it as a jokey post anyway.

    You were commenting upthread about no YG poll results tonight. I posted one, but Smithson says there were two (with different results!)

    “So 3 polls tonight. 2 with LAB leads (Opinium & YouGov/SunS) the other (YouGov/S Times) level-pegging.”

    Looking forward to Anthony’s explanation tomorrow.

  40. @OldNat
    Politically partisan media “hammer” other parties and their leaders.
    What’s new?

    Well, what I said was that they were hammering away but EM is still standing. Generally the aim of hammering is to nail something, not to let it escape your grasp. If that happens things can get rather painful.

  41. @Bluebob
    You say that Labour has lost the support of the newspapers.

    The newspapers that you are talking about always support the Conservative party. They seem to want a one party (Conservative party) state, and have been like that for a long time.

    How many of them supported Tony Blair’s Labour party.?There was the Sun, through gritted teeth apparently, but no others, that I can think of. Tony Blair’s Labour party was by many accounts very Conservative in its politics.

    The fact that a government like Tony Blair’s can’t shift the newspapers’ political preferences makes you think that the newspapers are tied in long term to the Conservative party.

    Fewer and fewer people seem to be be reading them in Britain.

    Other wider sources of information have become more popular, such as this site..

  42. RAF

    I wasn’t disagreeing. Just saying that’s condition normal.

    If it worked, then the SNP wouldn’t have a current membership of 92,263 and a commanding lead in the polls.

    Did SNP supporters (including me!) regularly complain about media bias? Yes.

    Have the media actually controlled opinion here? No.

    The English press don’t seem to be any more effective either.

    It seems more likely that Ed has poor ratings because voters rate him poorly.

  43. OLDNAT…………Thanks, I just caught up.

  44. @DavidWooding: Labour has one point lead, according to YouGov poll in The Sun on Sunday. Lab 34, Con 33, Ukip 15, Lib Dems 8.

    SNP 4 & Green 5 apparently.

  45. So if the same pollster (YG) produces polls for 2 Sunday papers that show some minimal differences between party support, perhaps people should stop getting excited when their favourite part is a point ahead or behind in polls which have a 3% moe anyway.

  46. CROSSBAT11……….I’m a fifties working class boy from Wolverhampton, my grandad was a Marxist who believed that teaching religion was child abuse, I really don’t, ‘ get ‘ the Labour Party today. Who are these people ? :-)

  47. It’s 02-00 here, I wish you all goodnight. :-)

    (If you’re still there.)
    “It wouldn’t be long before Devon beef farmers, rigorously inspected by their local council, were up in arms if everyone was buying beef from Bulmania at half their cost of production.”

    I think, with respect, you are missing the main po(int, which is that the Devon breed, rather than beef in general is what many, mainly small and specialised farmers produce (not just in Devon) for a specialised market, and similarly with other products which have a premium market and price. The regulations covering slaughter and marketing of both meat and live animals can, if applied to relate to the more careful production and market systems which have traditionally been favoured by farmers and customers in Devon, increase value added, and dovetail with other food aspects of local and tourist demand, so go along with clotted cream etc. It’s the local economics as much as quality of life which in the end matters if you are a Devonian and want the EU and the UK Government to be reading off the same hymn book in determining how you, your farmer neighbours, the High Street butcher and the Mothers’ Union lead your lives. I’ld be glad to hear how Charles, from that part of the world, and others see this in the EU reform debate and VI.

  49. John B

    Sorry, mate, but if the Labour party is not disciplined enough to understand the importance of keeping the focus on Tory loss and is determined to provide alternative stories then it will get what’s coming to it.

    Actually the Labour Party has been pretty disciplined, but if the media aren’t presented with something that fits the narrative they are expected to produce, then they will distort something so it does or keep digging around till they find something that can be treated as significant. So if Thornberry’s fairly innocuous tweet hadn’t existed, something else would have been bigged up for the purposes of distraction.

    If you want an example of how this operates, you only have to think back to the London media coverage of the Referendum campaign. The tiniest incident or an ambiguous social media interaction by the most minor political players would be exaggerated into civil war and anti-English hatred. Most of this coverage wasn’t even aimed at the Scottish market and so influencing the vote – it was more about maintaining the shock-horror values of the media and building up the aggressive self-pity that seems to be the main emotion they want their readers to feel. Hence the build up of such non-issues as EVEL.

    It a symptom of the herd behaviour and lack of originality of the Press that even supposedly Labour-friendly papers engage in this sort of collective bullying. For most of the day the Guardian has led with the headline “Labour party at war over Emily Thornberry’s ‘snobby’ tweet” based on a few un-warlike quotes from the people who will give anyone a quote about anything (Field, Abbott, Mitchell).

    Admittedly Miliband and Labour have a real problem with the media and have had since his election. As always with bullies tackling them head-on would have been the wiser – as indeed has been done very effectively a few times. But the real lesson to be learned from Campbell was not so much aggression but persistence. So little of what is important to politicians registers with the average voter, that you need to repeat yourself endlessly to get noticed.

    Furthermore you can’t assume that people will notice that you are being treated unfairly. It’s something you have to keep pointing out (in an unalienating way), otherwise they will just follow the line they are being sold – again because they don’t really follow things that closely rather than because of stupidity or innate dislike.

    In fact there are complaints from within Labour about any attempts at such persistence whenever it is tried, for all sorts of bad reasons. As with so much, trying to keep the Party together, which everyone says is Miliband’s strength, has too often meant keeping the Blairites quiet as a top priority. It hasn’t worked and as they are going to spend the next six months knifing him anyway, Miliband really has to start fighting. He’ll know if it’s successful by who the complaints are coming from.

  50. Looks like the papers were ready with the headlines we were all expecting – UKIP surge in polls, main parties in meltdown, and the Sun wanted a poll to support their headline.

    But it didn’t happen….no poll meltdown, no mass defections, headlines having to be re-written.

    What on earth is going on? The earthquake that was Rochester has turned out to be only a very small rumble.

    Looking for ‘small earthquake’ synonyms I came across ‘foreshock’.

    “A foreshock is an earthquake that occurs before a larger seismic event (the mainshock) and is related to it in both time and space. The designation of an earthquake as foreshock, mainshock or aftershock is only possible after the full sequence of events has happened”

    So perhaps it was one of those…

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