Manchester Gorton by-election

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 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.

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  • TannyWright

    Dear Matt,
    Have you forgotten that The Green Party was founded by former Conservatives?
    The Green Party has recently won a council seat from UKIP in the Forest of Dean.
    The Green Party has been called ‘The UKIP of the left’ as it takes votes of the disillusioned.
    Liberal Democrats and Green Party entered into a Progressive Alliance for Proportional Representation.
    Labour did not support a Progressive Alliance OR Proportional Representation.
    Not only did The Green Party come 2nd in the General Election, but they came a solid 2nd in 2014 council elections. This is one of the few seats where The Green Party has come 2nd. The Green Party won Brighton Pavilion for Caroline Lucas from a position of 3rd – beating LABOUR.
    It is Liberal Democrats turn to step aside from this seat.
    The Green Party are the best alternative here for the people of Manchester and will demonstrate it.
    Reports from Manchester Gorton already indicate this will be a messy selection for Labour as they stand within a messy national profile

  • jo sook

    Dear Matt below. The Liberal Democrats have already selected a very good local candidate, Jackie Pearcey to contest the by-election. She was a Councillor in the Gorton seat for 20 years until 2012. It is the Liberal Democrats who will be head to head with labour 🙂