What on earth just happened in Sunderland?

​Well… Council by-elections are back, and back with a bang! That would be the bang from the swingometer breaking as the Lib Dems gained two council seats on huge increases in vote share.

It was no surprise that Sunderland won the race to declare first (it hasn't lost that race at a general election since 1987) but the result itself was – a 36 per cent swing from Labour to the Europhile Lib Dems in a solidly Leave-voting area.

Local by-elections can be noisy, so I wouldn't get too excited about one individual result. But plenty of other people would, so what on earth just happened?

Some of the explanations popping up on Twitter didn't stack up – the weather was bad, but turnout was only down five points since the sunshine of May. And a few people tweeted that this was a "middle class area", but it doesn't sound like one – just under half of households are in socially rented properties and the BNP came third there in 2007. And the outgoing councillor had been disqualified on non-attendance grounds, but that does happen from time-to-time without having this kind of effect on their party. So for the moment we're all scratching our heads.

If there's a genuine national move going on, perhaps related to events this week, we might expect to see some sign of it in the YouGov/Times poll out later today, that would have been done in part after Corbyn's speech.

On the opposite coast of Northern England, Copeland selections are progressing, with the Lib Dems naming Rebecca Hanson as their candidate and Labour announcing a three-woman shortlist, with left-winger Rachel Holliday suggested as a favourite by some…
 


Yesterday the psephological world lost Professor Anthony King of the University of Essex (and known by millions as the BBC's election night pundit from 1983 to 2005) at the age of 82. Many tributes have been paid, and this from John Curtice was among my favourites. From the countless reruns, and memories of watching at the time, he was as much a part of election nights as David Dimbleby or the "Arthur" theme tune.

One thing about Tony that really stood out for me was that he never minced his words when something genuinely extraordinary was happening. None of the contrived "balance" you often see on TV when the facts aren't balanced – when a party was in total meltdown (see Labour in 1983 or the Tories in 1997) he made that absolutely clear, and the viewing was all the better for it.

May he rest in peace.

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