I shall blog in more detail about the upcoming by-election at Stoke-on-Trent Central when the runners and riders are fixed. This is merely an advance viewing of the contest based on the background.
Tristram Hunt, the Labour Party MP, was never very popular in his own constituency, though London TV studios loved him. He made no bones about despising the leader of his own party, tried and failed to formulate policy of his own and was surprisingly bad (for someone of his background and education) at arguing his points when (as so often) being interviewed on TV.
Hunt stepped down as MP in order to take a job as Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. MP pay is £74,000 (plus generous expenses); the V&A Director presently gets a package worth £230,000. Hunt may be getting more. No wonder he said that “the V&A offer was too good to refuse.” So much for political conviction, vocation and, indeed, loyalty (whether to party or constituents). Stoke Central is well rid of him.
The Stoke Central constituency has existed since 1950 and the Labour Party has won every election since then. Until Hunt appeared in 2010, the Labour vote varied between 48% and 68%. Hunt’s votes have been 38.8% (2010) and 39.3% (2015). Stoke Central has moved from being a Labour safe seat to one which can be regarded as marginal:
The Labour vote in 2015 was about 12,000, that of both UKIP and Conservatives about 7,000. The LibDems, until 2015 the second party, crashed to fifth place (behind an Independent) with 1,296 votes. In fact, the LibDem vote in 2010 was 7,000, the same as the UKIP 2015 vote, perhaps a sign that the “protest vote” bloc at Stoke Central is around 7,000 or so. Arguende.
The Conservatives have not even been the second party at Stoke Central since 2001. This by-election is one which will be decided between Labour and UKIP. The recent Theresa May Brexit speech may well have shot UKIP’s fox overall, but at Stoke Central no-one is expecting a Conservative win or even a Conservative second.
Can UKIP win? The answer, even at this stage, must be a qualified “yes”. Much will depend on its candidate and that of Labour. If Paul Nuttall, a Northerner, stands, he must have a chance despite his partly-“libertarian” views. UKIP has a steep climb but it is possible. This is a by-election. The result will not affect who governs. People can protest with their votes. Labour is now seen as the pro-mass immigration party, the pro-EU party (to an extent). Stoke Central voted about 65% for Leave in the EU Referendum.
If turnout is low, if the 2015 Labour vote halves to about 6,000, if the 2015 UKIP vote mostly holds up at 7,000 or not much less, then UKIP can win. If.
It is not credible to imagine a win for the Conservatives or LibDems and they will vie for most votes not going to Labour or UKIP, but this is a Labour/UKIP contest. If enough people vote tactically for UKIP, UKIP has a good chance. On the other hand, 2015 LibDem or Green voters may also vote tactically for Labour.
Unemployment is high, immigration is high and having had Labour MPs for 66 years has not prevented either.
Labour must still be odds-on to win Stoke Central at this point, but UKIP has a serious chance.