Friday, January 21, 2005
Bring out your dead
The Tories are not quite dead yet. Yesterday they won a remarkable by-election victory in the inner London Borough of Hackney.
The result is interesting for two reasons. First, it took place in Queensbridge ward, where the Blairs attended their first Labour Party meeting and where Tony first held political office, as the Labour Party's branch secretary (does anyone know whether the story is true that Blair was turned down here by Labour as a local council candidate?).
Second, the Tory victor is Andrew Boff, a former leader of the Conservatives in London's Hillingdon Borough and a 'rising star' being talked of as a future London mayor (he came second to Steve Norris in the Tories' 1998 mayoral selection contest).
Boff is an effective community campaigner. He has built a high profile locally and is someone to watch. While the local Labour Party was complacent, the Tories campaigned hard in this by-election, completing five canvasses since the autumn, and came from fourth place in 2002 to win.
The figures (for those who like these sort of things) were Conservative 696 (36.3%), Labour 595 (31.1%), Lib Dem 334 (17.4%), Respect 291 (15.2%), turnout 29%. In 2002, the figures were Conservative 231 (11.2%), Labour 1006 (48.9%), Lib Dem 436 (21.2%), Socialist Alliance 158 (7.7%), Green 380 (18.5%), CPA 77 (3.7%).
Queensbridge is a mixed ward, with its share of council estates but which is gentrifying as 'City boys' move in to the terraced housing. The main issue in the by-election was the council's plan to spend £64m on a revamp of the town hall - the Tories copied the old Liberal tactic of "bring this petition form with you and give it to our teller at the polling station".
This is just one example of how the Tories are learning to target and how they can attract disaffected Labour voters. They have no chance of winning the next general election but will do better than most people expect, especially now that UKIP is imploding. Don't write them off.