Manchester Gorton is one of Labour’s safest seats if we look solely at the numbers. A majority of over 24,000 coupled with none of the other parties clearing 10% means that is any normal by-election, it wouldn’t really interest politicos. Yet we don’t live in a normal political era anymore and anything can happen.
One of the biggest reasons it was so safe came down to having an extremely popular and long-time MP. As we saw in 2015 for the Lib Dems, popularity and incumbency couldn’t save a plethora of MPs but this wasn’t a problem for Labour here. Sir Gerald Kaufman never had a majority of under 5,000 and never was truly challenged by the Lib Dems. He never even dipped below 50% of the vote. Yet here I am with writing a blog post with the title it has so I suppose I should explain why.
First things first, politics is changing and as I’ve said before as people we are less likely to identify with our ideology at the moment but are more likely to identify with our status on the EU Referendum. Are we remainers of leavers first and foremost? I know I’d still identify as liberal above being a remainer but that sentiment is not the norm these days. This of course may well change in the relatively near future but in the immediacy, that is the case.
Second is the CLP is in complete disarray. There is a good piece in the Manchester Evening News entitled The Labour battle for Gorton, which details some of the issues going on within the local Labour party. Now this isn’t abnormal, this happens to all parties in various places at various times. Still since the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and his radical new agenda of not holding the government to account (ok I’m being slightly facetious here) but since his supporters have flooded in, many local parties are pulling in different directions. They have fierce disagreements of where the party should go.
This leads me to the third reason, what if Labour select a Brexiteer Corbynite? This would be a good place for them to roll out this strategy. It is what a lot of the newer Labour members want. Jeremy Corbyn’s public and private views on Brexit seem pretty much at odds. Publicly he supports staying in the EU but he only seems to bang on about the European Workers Directive as to why. He told Adam Hills when he appeared on The Last Leg that he wanted to stay in the EU ‘seven or seven and a half out of ten’ and that is not a ringing endorsement at all. So why not go with a Brexiteer in this seat?
Honestly if the Lib Dems were to make a staggering (and lets not beat about the bush here – it would be staggering) then it needs Labour to have this strategy. If they put up a passionate Pro-EU voice or someone who isn’t on the ultra left of the party then they should cruise home with ease. However with the way Labour are functioning at the moment, who knows what will happen?
As for how the Lib Dems manage to navigate their way through the Labour carnage should it come about, well it will not be easy. In Richmond Park they threw the proverbial kitchen sink at it, in an ultra Remain area and still only just squeaked home. This though whilst being a 61-62% Remain area (based on estimates) has one very different thing in play, this would be the first time in the post EU Referendum era where the Lib Dems are the primary opponents to a Labour hold. This in itself is going to be enough for politicos to watch what happens closely.
Can the Lib Dems make serious inroads into Labour in Remain areas? This will be the first indication of whether they can or not. The Lib Dems got over 30% in both 2005 and 2010 but saw their vote share collapse after the coalition in 2015. Very quickly we’ve seen those numbers start to reverse. The Lib Dems haven’t lost their deposit yet in a parliamentary by-election since the EU Referendum. They lost it in Manchester Gorton in 2015 but that means nothing for the upcoming by-election.
All logic will point to Labour winning with less than 50% of the vote. The Lib Dems should finish second with over 25% (my guesstimate at this point would be 28-32%) but there is plenty of time to go. Plenty of hoops to jump through. Remember Sarah Olney wasn’t winning in Richmond Park until the final 72 hours as a very well executed campaign came to a head.
If Labour pick the wrong candidate, if Jeremy Corbyn continues to have dire ratings and if the Lib Dems get the right person with a clever campaign strategy then you never know. The party are between 7 and 10/1 around. That seems about right at this juncture but I wouldn’t be blown away if they hit 3/1 before polling day.
This by-election will be far more interesting than the raw numbers suggest…
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