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Learning The Lessons From The Bromley Near Miss 30 June 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives.
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Whichever Conservative Torchway its spun, the Conservatives were very lucky to have held onto Bromley. It was a very close run thing, with a late Liberal Democrat surge surprising many. Chameleons on Bicycles congratulates Bob Neill.

Bob Neill, Conservative 11,621 (- 11,962); Ben Abbotts, Liberal Democrat 10,988 (+1,620); Nigel Farage, UKIP 2,347 (+872); Rachel Reeves, Labour 1,925 (-8,316); Ann Garrett, Green 811 (-659); Paul Winnett, National Front 476; John Hemming-Clarke, Independent 442 ; Steven Uncles, English Democrats 212 ; John Cartwright, Monster Raving Looney Party 132; Nick Hadziannis, Independent 65; Anne Belsey, Money Reform Party 33

A loss would have been an absolute disaster for the Conservatives and Project Cameron; Bob Neill was just 633 votes from this fate. But what is interesting about this is the abstention factor. The Conservatives lost nearly 12,000 votes – but they didn’t switch parties, just stayed at home. Low turnout of course accounts for some of this, but not all of it. Equally, the Liberal Democrats squeezed Labour, but most again just stayed at home. Labour slipped 8,316 voters but the Lib Dems only gained 1,620.

Surprisingly, local MEP and UKIP candidate Nigel Farage polled only 2347 votes, up 872 on the general election. At the South Staffordshire by-election they polled over 10% of the vote. I feel they may have done better had they kept their old general election candidate instead of parachuting in Farage.

To me it seems voters are punishing the main parties by being uninterested. Maybe this is a warning to them. What remains a risk to Cameron is the right flank of the party. At the last general election it is generally agreed UKIP cost the Conservatives upwards of 20 seats, at the next election this could be the difference between various hung parliament options or even a Conservative majority. He would do well to neutralise the right by stalking it on several key issues, as several European parties have successfully done – Europe being the obvious choice. A referendum pledge would destroy UKIP, leaving him free to become more centrist. It would enthuse traditional voters but not put anyone off, it is after all only a referendum.

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1. Tapestry - 30 June 2006

If we establish why 11000 Conservative stayed at home in B & C, then we can make meaningful strategic interpretations as to what to do about it.

Maybe it’s to do with Cameron’s success at wooing popularity across the political spectrum by being policy-lite, that has alienated and demoralised many traditional Conservatives.

Maybe we do have a Cameron problem – but the local election results tended to suggest the opposite to that. The evidence is not strong for that theory.

More likely the locals didn’t like Bob the Blob. He’s a nice enough chap, but why they appointed a europhile when Conservatives are known to be 90% eurosceptic and place the EU quite high on their list of key issues, defeats me.

The fact that Farage could not turn that to any more votes, tends to show too that UKIP’s claims to be a Westminster seat-winning party are history.

The Lib Dems clearly saw Bob as the weak link and assiduously attacked him. If the A Lister Julia Manning had been selected instead, the Lib Dems would have had their work cut out saying nasty things about a smart and articulate young lady – and local Conservatives might have got off their butts for her.

Bob came across as a bit of an old buffer in his acceptance speech – no humour and lots of rage. Julia would have handled such things as Lib Dem dirty tricks more deftly.

All the polls tell us that the Lib Dems are at rock bottom. And yet they nearly raised enough support to win B & C. Are the polls in need of a reassessment? or is the B & C result just another example of the interchangeability of Labour and LIb Dem votes as part of a long-running electoral pact?

The situation at B & C is exactly what Maude needs to push harder for his A List campaign. If that goes ahead with an unspoken emphasis on euroscepticism, the traditional Conservatives should cheer up and resurface and potential new voters might be excited by a few fresher faces in our ranks.

I don’t think Bob was the right choice.

2. Chris Palmer - 30 June 2006

Tapestry, the Lib Dems would manage to make up nasty things about anyone – even if they were a young, articulate lady.

By-elections are by-elections. They tell us very little about the current political climate (unless we see complete extremes.) The sitting candidate always loses votes because of a lower turnout and the Lib Dems always do well because they have a better campaigning system than us currently, and ship a great number of people in from elsewhere to help out (which they wouldn’t be able to do during a General Election.)

Bromley will go back to being a very safe Conservative seat at the next election.

Personally I don’t think Bob was the right choice either, but it was not my decision. I don’t believe that the Conservative party should be allowing europhiles (or those not sound on Europe) to stand for election. However, with current management in place this is unlikely to happen.


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