Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

No Mid-Term Wobble, This Is an Earthquake

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

No Mid-Term Wobble, This Is an Earthquake

Article excerpt


THE most important consequence of the scale of the by-election defeat isthat the doubts over Mr Brown's leadership which have preoccupied the innercounsels of the Labour Party are set to become explicit.

This was not a mid-term wobble: it was a political earthquake striking at theLabour heartland.

Gordon Brown's succession has been dogged first by the "character question",now it is dominated by something even more ominous for any leaderthe electability question.

A 17.6 per cent swing to the Tories in Crewe, with a massive 19 pointsseparating the winner Edward Timpson from Labour's Tamsin Dunwoody, cannot bewritten off as mere mid-term blues or a sporadic bloody nose dealt out to theincumbent party.

A result of this kind is as much about mood as about numbers.

It shows the Conservatives moving into a different gear and provides DavidCameron with a strong symbolic win outside his southern comfort zone, promisingprogress towards an overall majority at the general election The 1977 Ashfieldby-election, when the dramatic loss of an enshrined Labour seat heralded MrsThatcher's 1979 landslide, springs to mind. (Mr Timpson might note, though,that dramatic by-election victories can be fragilethe Tories went on to lose Ashfield in the general election, even though theyswept to power nationally.) What will concern Labour most is that nothing MrBrown didthe relief on the 10p tax debacle timed for days before yesterday's poll; hisfinal round of interviews assuring voters he was listening to their concerns;the nomination of the popular, late MP's daughter as candidate, and thecontroversial "Tory Toff " campaignlessened the damage. "Frankly, we might as well not have campaigned at allit might have gone better," was the dyspeptic view of one minister today.

Hard questions need to be asked about a campaign which proved so ineffectual,not least the belated recognition by No 10 that the emphasis on a class-basedattack on Mr Timpson backfired by damaging New Labour far more than the Tories.The party organisation is in a woeful state, lacking both confidence anddirection. …

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