I have blogged twice previously about the upcoming Stoke Central by-election:
in which I predicted a very close race. In the latter post I suggested that UKIP and Paul Nuttall could finally crack it and defeat Labour in a former Labour heartland. That post was written on 26 January, since which date Paul Nuttall and UKIP have run one of the least impressive campaigns seen for a long time. Labour is now (21 February) 8/13 odds-on favourite, with UKIP out at 9/4, having been at one point 10/11 favourite.
The latest polling seems to suggest, however, that UKIP and Labour are neck-and-neck in the affections of the voters:
As the Stoke Sentinel report says, turnout will therefore be key. UKIP voters tend to be older, tend to vote, tend to be more motivated politically than Labour voters now are. Those factors favour UKIP strongly. Against that, the NHS is a major issue, which favours Labour (especially because Nuttall seems to have flirted with market forces in the NHS, albeit some years ago). Immigration, race, and culture is probably a combined major issue under the surface, something which is often obscured in polling by reason of the pervasive political correctness.
All weather forecasts are showing that Polling Day, Thursday 23 February 2017, will be a cold, wet and windy day across the country, featuring “Storm Doris”. That will depress voting numbers in Stoke Central, which is already one of the least-voting constituencies in the UK (in 2015, the turnout was 49%).
On the face of it, Paul Nuttall seems a poor candidate and UKIP a bit of a joke. However, it was revealed during the campaign that the Labour candidate, Gareth Snell, is a spotty and rather unpleasant Twitter troll, who posted, only a few years ago, some juvenile-level insults about women. He also grievously insulted EU Referendum Leave voters, in one of the most Brexit-friendly parts of the UK.
In addition, Gareth Snell seems not to have had a job outside local Labour and connected union politics, living off his council allowances and expenses.
One has to ask whether Stoke Central voters want to be represented by such an unpleasant person. We shall see.
It may be foolish to predict anything now that the race seems so close, but I am still inclined to think that UKIP might crack it despite everything that has happened. In the end, if Labour wins, Stoke Central gets another and particularly useless Labour MP, whereas if UKIP wins, Stoke Central really is on the map.
The main indicators still look good for UKIP:
- voter motivation
- voter age profile
as against which Labour has on its side
- traditional Labour voting pattern
- Muslim voters [6%+].
This looks bad for Labour. Either Labour loses to UKIP or Labour scrapes a pathetic fingertips win. If the former, Labour will go into a tailspin and its MPs will be lining up to find new jobs after 2020; if Labour “only just” wins, then Labour’s decline continues anyway.
As for UKIP, only a win will do. A win keeps the UKIP train clattering along its rusty rails. If UKIP loses here, then that is derailment or the end of the line, whichever metaphor might be preferred.