Tomorrow the Labour Party faces its latest electoral challenge with three by-elections taking place simultaneously. All three seats were previously held by Labour, and following the three by-elections two weeks ago, that means Labour will have fought in six seats (five of which were previously Labour) in just 14 days.
As with the by-elections in Corby, Manchester and Cardiff (and the PCC elections on the same day), turnout is likely to be the biggest challenge. Political apathy, “safe” seats (and the relative lack of previous canvassing that often implies), dismal weather and early darkness are likely to combine to produce very low turnouts indeed. The party is certainly focused on turnout, which it believes will be a significant factor in tomorrow’s results. And low turnouts (combined with other local factors) can produce some unusual by-election surprises. So what are the chances of that happening?
Previous MP: Malcolm Wicks (Labour)
Labour candidate: Steve Reed
Highly rated Lambeth Council Leader Steve Reed is Labour’s candidate in Croydon, where the majority at the last election was a comfortable 16,000. Whilst there seems little chance of a surge in support for the Tories (who came second here last time). Former Livingstone adviser Lee Jasper has been making plenty of noise (and music) in his bid to take the seat for George Galloway’s Respect, but it’s unlikely that either they or UKIP can build up sufficient head of steam to take the seat.
Chance of an upset: Small. Expect a Labour majority, albeit a significantly reduced one.
Previous MP: Sir Stuart Bell (Labour)
Candidate: Andy McDonald
The only concern going into this by-election was whether or not local independent mayor (and former policeman) Ray Mallon would stand. When it became clear that he wouldn’t, it also became clear that Labour should hold this seat comfortably.
Chance of an upset: Little to none. Middlesbrough should stay comfortably Labour.
Previous MP: Denis MacShane (Labour)
Candidate: Sarah Champion
A controversial selection (to say the least) and the subsequent disillusionment of the local party would have made this tricky. The manner of the previous MP’s resignation from parliament would have made this tough. But add onto that the sectarian campaigning of Respect in the seat, and then the revelation that a Labour-run council had removed foster children from their UKIP-supporting foster parents, and all of a sudden you have the combustible mix that can produce a by-election upset. Oh – and the BNP are also a significant factor in this seat that has experienced some real racial tension in recent years.
Chance of an upset: Possible, although the fact that the non-Labour vote is split between UKIP, Respect, Tories, Lib Dems, the English Democrats and the BNP probably means that Labour should retain the seat, despite everything – as long as turnout isn’t the major factor. And the party has deployed a significant number of central party staff to ensure that turnout is as high as possible.
In short – Labour should retain what should be three very safe seats. But if you’re able to make it to any of the three seats today, your campaigning time could make a real difference.
And join us tomorrow night for the results – there will be a liveblog…