Saturday, December 03, 2016

What do we learn from the Richmond Park by-election?

Anthony Wells, author of the http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ blog, often writes that

"By elections tell us almost nothing about the state of public opinion."

The Richmond Park by-election is so atypical that it probably tells us less than most.

The constituency is estimated to have voted 72% to 28% to Remain in the referendum earlier this year, which makes it one of the thirty most pro-remain areas of the country and the fourth most pro-remain of all the constituencies in the country which elected a Conservative in 2015.

So it would be fair to say that the defeat of the pro-Brexit Zac Goldsmith in the by election he provoked in pro-remain Richmond Park does confirm one thing. If you are a high-profile supporter of one side on the most topical current national issue, triggering a by-election in a constituency where 72% of electors just voted for the other side can be described as a high-risk strategy.

Now, there's a surprise.

Wells suggests that this by-election was an "unusual event in an unusual area" which does, however, serve to illustrates a pattern in recent local government by elections, in which the Lib Dems have been doing well. He adds:

"My best guess is that the explanation for this is something along the lines of people having stopped wanting to punish the Lib Dems. Having seen them humiliated and almost wiped out of parliament, they think they’ve had their medicine and now when a nice Lib Dem candidate comes along in a by-election people are again willing to give them a hearing."

But the electorate giving them a hearing is one thing - it doesn't necessarily mean the Lib/Dems are poised to regain all the seats they lost in 2015.

For every former Lib/Dem constituency like Richmond Park which voted Remain and where the strong anti-Brexit line was apparently a vote winner, there are almost three which voted Leave. (It is estimated that of 27 seats which the Conservatives gained from the Lib/Dems in 2015, seven voted Remain but twenty had Leave majorities.)

The next election is not in the bag for any party. This week's by election was a good result for the Lib/Dems - provided their successful candidate can avoid more interviews like this one! But nobody can or should take any forthcoming election for granted.

3 comments:

Jim said...

The best bit about that interview is how proud she is to have "overturned a huge conservative majority." - well yeah its true they did,

But that was always going to happen wasn't it, no matter who won it.

Its quite difficult for the conservatives to keep any sort of majority when they did not front a candidate for people to vote for really.

Jim said...

^ if anyone has any confusion about that comment, Goldsmith ran this election as an Independent. There was not a conservative candidate on the Ballot Paper.

Chris Whiteside said...

Indeed.