OLD Bexley and Sidcup wasn’t meant to be a competitive seat.
The late Conservative MP James Brokenshire had an 18,952 majority from the 2019 General Election.
Since the days of Edward Heath, the Tories have always dominated the constituency – bar a few scares in 2001 and 2005.
So it’s no indictment on Keir Starmer’s Labour that the party failed to make a Chesham and Amersham-style comeback this week.
In fact, optimists point out that the slashed majority – now under 5,000 – is cause for hope.
But one must look closely at the dynamics of the election.
Firstly, as reported by JL Partners Polls, the swing in Old Bexley and Sidcup – 10.3 per cent – was the lowest against any governing party in a by-election since 1997.
Labour may have appeared to gain ground in this seat – and make inroads into the Blue Wall, as some pollsters would put it – but it can only be seen as an underwhelming result.
To his credit, this was a comprehensively incisive analysis from Paul Mason which is worth reading.
The crux of the argument against Labour’s performance here is the turnout.
The Tory vote number slipped from 29,786 in 2019 to 11,189 here.
“Around half the normally loyal Tory vote stayed at home – but in a by-election that’s easier to do than in a general election where the stakes are existential,” Mason commented.
It’s the failure to energise the Labour vote which is the issue.
A 33.5 per cent turnout is appalling, and indicates that not enough red voters were fired up to turn out.
This is a seat where, albeit in a General Election, Corbyn’s Labour acheived 14,000 votes in 2017.
Amid the pandemic fallout and more importantly, the ongoing second jobs or ‘sleaze’ scandal, Labour, as the main challengers here, should have taken advantage.
Labour voters, this time around, simply weren’t inspired to come out and vote. The canvassing effort was fairly weak compared to what it would be, or was, under the previous leader.
We saw this in Hartlepool, and to an extent in Batley and Spen.
A lack of innovative and inspiring clear policy may portray Starmer as the safe, responsible candidate.
But it sure as hell won’t get numbers to turn out for him on polling day.
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