Yesterday we learnt of the sad loss of the Father of the House of Commons, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who had been the MP for Manchester Gorton since 1983 and before that for Manchester Ardwick from 1970. Our first thoughts are of course for his family and colleagues.
As a consequence, there will be a by-election in Gorton. This will actually the sixth by-election in the constituency in the space of 128 years, which is rather a lot. At first glance, this is a very safe Labour seat, with 67 per cent of the 2015 vote and no other party making it into double figures.
But if any party is going to challenge Labour here, it will almost certainly be the Lib Dems. The Remain vote in this seat was 61 per cent Remain according to NCP estimates. The Lib Dems came second in each election from 1997 to 2010, latterly coming within 18 points of Labour.
The 2015 result in Manchester Gorton pic.twitter.com/vRZN0yRCr5
— NumbrCrunchrPolitics (@NCPoliticsUK) February 27, 2017
The problem for the Lib Dems is that they came fifth in 2015 and lost their deposit. That means that, unless any opinion polls are commissioned (and show the Lib Dems in a clear second), they may have trouble squeezing the Green vote without a pact. And as this is one of four seats (all Labour-held) where the Greens came second last time, the Lib Dems may have a hard time persuading them to stand aside.
In reality, the Lib Dems have a far stronger chance of challenging Labour, due to their well-oiled by-election machine and a higher vote “ceiling”, not least because unlike the Greens, they could conceivably squeeze a few points of tactical voting from the Conservatives (or indeed anyone that wants to stop Labour).
Without a pact, the 31.5 per cent swing required by the Lib Dems might be a bridge too far. What’s more, Labour may opt for a 4th May poll to coincide with the Greater Manchester mayoral election (and county council elections elsewhere), and we know that people often gravitate towards putting their crosses in the same box at coincident elections.
It wouldn’t be without risk, however, as it would mean a relatively long campaign. That is probably a bigger threat to the incumbent than anyone else. Whoever wins might be in their place for place for a while. This constituency has a large electorate for a Labour seat, and in sharp contrast to Copeland and Stoke Central, it is unchanged in the initial proposals from the Boundary Commission. Further analysis to follow.