As I wrote yesterday, top of my to do list on returning from helping in the Manchester Gorton by-election was booking a train ticket for another trip up there before polling day. Attracted by not only the huge numbers of flat, terraced streets which make campaigning a dream but also by the political situation.
There’s a real buzz about both the Lib Dem campaign itself and the response from voters. Judging from what I saw and heard out campaigning, just under three weeks out from polling day the Labour vote is already very soft. Soft in the way it was in the past in places such as Brent East, Leicester South or Dunfermline and West Fife, three of the party’s big wins from Labour in the party’s by-election heydey when Tony Blair was Prime Minister.
The media has already, rightly, spotted that the contest is very much Jackie Pearcey versus Labour. George Galloway’s office is not only short of help, his meetings have been notably short of the key community leaders who would be there if he was getting any traction.
The Labour vote is soft and there for the taking to set up the sort of Liberal Democrat result which significantly boosts the party further and strengthens the anti-Hard Brexit campaign. But that means bodies on the ground to do the taking. Many more bodies than so far.
The changes of that are helped by Labour being in a double-bind with voters. For Remain supporters, there’s the problem of Jeremy Corbyn’s (absence of) leadership over Europe. And for Leave supporters, there’s the problem that Jeremy Corbyn is just the sort of career politician from London that many of them were voting Leave to protest about.
Of course, many Lib Dem members have got elections of their own coming up. If those are in genuinely winnable seats, the priority they take is the right one. Where that isn’t the case, and especially in London which has almost no elections in May, then I’d really urge every member to put helping in Gorton at the top of their list.
That’s because Parliamentary by-elections can change national politics and the policy of the government which even sweeping gains in local council elections do not. The Poll Tax cost the then Conservative government many council seats. But it was losing Ribble Valley to the Liberal Democrats which killed the policy.
What’s more, every major recovery in the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, and before that the Alliance and the Liberal Party, has been fuelled by a run of dramatic Parliamentary by-election results.
That’s a point I explained at a Lib Dem Pint in Richmond ahead of the Richmond Park by-election. What I said then now applies all the more so to Manchester Gorton. The party has started the ball rolling.