I bet Labour will win the Rochester and Strood by-election

30th September, 2014 8:50 am

I am new to dabbling in political betting and may not quite have got the hang of it, as my rather minimal bets so far have been on things that I hope will happen, rather than I expect to.

In this spirit I have bet £5 at odds of 10-1 that Labour will win the Rochester and Strood by-election.


Ok, you can stop laughing now.

Expectation management is a good thing in by-elections. If no one, including the bookies, expects you to win, then your national momentum doesn’t get hit by losing.

In this case the expectation is clearly a hard fought fight between UKIP’s newest recruit Mark Reckless MP and his former party, the Tories.

But I don’t think we should accept that we are out of the race on this one.

The predecessor seat to Rochester & Strood, Medway, was Labour from 1997-2010, held in 2005 by a knife edge 213 votes in an election that was so close that its left wing MP Bob Marshall-Andrews preempted his own victory by going on national TV to announce he was sure he had lost and it was all Tony Blair’s fault. In 2001 Labour won by 3,780 votes and in 1997 by 5,354. In all three of these elections Labour’s vote share was well over 40%.

Nor was 2010 a complete meltdown. Whilst we were 9,953 votes behind the Tories we still polled 13,651 (28.46%).

Labour’s ability to win the predecessor seats to this one was not confined to the Blair/Marshall-Andrews golden era. We won the Rochester & Chatham seat in 1950, 1951, 1955, 1964, 1966 and Oct 1974.

The Medway Council wards making up the seat are: Cuxton and Halling, Peninsula, River, Rochester East, Rochester South and Horsted, Rochester West, Strood North, Strood Rural and Strood South. Whilst Cuxton and Halling, Peninsula, Rochester South and Horsted, and Strood Rural were safe Tory seats, Labour picked up at least one of the councillors in each of Rochester East, Strood North, and Strood South when the last elections were held in 2011, and was a good second in each of River and Rochester West.

Because the right wing vote is now split between Tories and UKIP, the winning post is now far nearer to the core vote of 28% which Labour held onto even in 2010. There is quite a chunky former Lib Dem vote (7800, 16.3%), which Labour ought to be able to grab a third to a half of. On a three-way split, assuming parties other than Labour, Tory and UKIP receive a minimum of 10%, you only need about 30% to win. I don’t accept that it isn’t possible to increase our vote from 28% to say 33% in a seat we held until the last General Election.

The maths of the UKIP/Tory split means we don’t have to win back votes we lost to the Tories in 2010 (though we should want to – why wouldn’t getting back the votes of people who were Labour until 2010 be a priority?) we just need to hold what we had then and top it up with ex-Lib Dems.

We have a good locally-rooted candidate, the kick-boxing Naushabah Khan, and a campaigning local party. They deserve the fullest support possible from the national party.

Psychologically we have to see this as an opportunity, where we have nothing to lose and a chance to get back into a seat we held until recently, and not a threat. For either UKIP or the Tories to lose would be a disaster for them, whereas we have already even written off by the media so we can only do better than they expect.

If we really are out of the running then we need to privately ask ourselves some very tough questions about why people in a gritty commuter belt seat that has turned to Labour every previous time a Tory government has let them down might this time prefer UKIP’s populist hogwash.

I believe we have policies that should be very attractive to the hard-working people of these commuter towns who are suffering from the cost of living crisis, particularly in housing and transport. These are just the kind of people Ed Miliband was presumably talking about when he coined the “squeezed middle” label.

Let’s give this campaign the resourcing and the political focus that will see the bookies regret putting us at 10-1 (presuming other people are more lavish in their bets than I am!).

I would prefer that we went in all guns blazing, with a very clear political message that attacks both the Tories and UKIP for their obsessing about Europe and their disinterest in the plight of ordinary people, and changes the conversation to one about the real economic and social issues facing the country.

Voters and seats like this ought to be part of the coalition that Labour assembles to win power. If we are a One Nation party why should voters on the Medway be any less important to us than voters on the Mersey or the Clyde?

I confess, for those who do not already know it, that I come from Kent originally. For my wider strategic take on the politics of my native county, here’s one I wrote earlier.

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  • John Ruddy

    Good point Luke. We have three by-elections coming up, I would like to see us target one of them – throw everything at it. As you say, the Tory vote will split, but we musnt be complacent about UKIP attrcating former Labour voters.

  • Redshift1

    How do we finance this though? To treat it like many of the other byelections we’ve fought we either need more staff on the ground or else we’ll be pulling staff away from our key seats.

    I do kind of agree with your argument but I don’t see how we square the circle resources-wise.

  • Doug Smith

    If Labour was offering an anti-New Labour/anti-disastrous war candidate like Bob Marshall-Andrews I’d put £20 on it myself. By Jove, I even go and canvas for her/him.

    But Progress… ? May as well go throw your stake down the drain.

  • Graham Ward

    UKIP are very over-priced in Rochester and Strood. Reckless does not have the personal following that Carswell has. It’s very possible that the right wing vote will split and Labour can come through the middle. Betting on Labour, covering with a vote on the Tories, looks like the sensible strategy.

  • Danny

    I’ve been a frequent visitor to Rochester and Strood since 2005. I’d have given you odds of 25/1. It’s not happening.

  • swatnan

    A One Nation Party has to be inclusive and not just cater for the industrial heartlands and inner city working class, but also speak to the harassed white collar commuters fed up with rail fare rises and having to stand for hours on crowded trains and tubes. And theres also the problem of coastal Channel Towns with Sansgatte 2, just 21 miles away.
    So its unlikely Labour will make any impact, but that UKIP will, because its a by election. In a GE, Labour might just stand a chance, if the whole country swings to Labour. But we should put up a candidate, and make the effort, preferably find a candidate one of the harrassed commuter and City workers, and not a Spad or a factory hand. An ex soldier might stand a chance, if we could find one.

  • David H

    Two words why this won’t happen: Ed Miliband

  • keithveness

    As a member in Thanet, I’ve learnt that Kent is prone to massive swings one way or the other. Rochester is certainly “do-able” – we won 8 seats out of 17 in Kent in 1997 and even up to 2010 held six of them. Lost the lot in the “Brown melt-down” but can certainly win back this one!

  • MoreLeftThanYou

    Naushabah Khan, the Labour Candidate.

    Another lawyer.

    • Ultra_Fox

      ..as was BMA..

      If he can connect with the community the way BMA did, then victory is indeed possible.

  • Daniel Speight

    I do wish you are right Luke, but I suspect the chief problem will be how much of that 28% core vote Labour can keep.

  • Sidney Ruff-Diamond

    If you’re right, I’ll look forward to Dan Hodges’ article in the Torygraph the next day on “Why winning this by-election is bad news for Ed Miliband”.

  • Rob

    If we promised to renationalise the railways (70% support in the UK, and Kent being a major commuter zone…) and recognise, as to his credit Ed M has done, but not eneough yet, that almost uncontrolled immigration has not been very good for community cohesion, for wage levels, for crazy house prices in the SE especially, if we campaign on a recovery that doesn’t exist for the excluded 90% (the squeezed middle are not likely to be impressed with cuts to benefits for hard working families), then yes, we may have a chance.

  • Only 10 to 1?

    Blimey that bookie saw you coming!

  • robertcp

    I agree Luke. There is no way that Labour’s vote should be squeezed when the front-runners are both on the right.

  • nottinghampaul

    If the Tories make the mistake of putting up a rabid anti EU candidate from the hang em & flog em wing who wouldn’t look out of place in UKIP, 10/1 could look very big indeed


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