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Friday, June 30, 2006

Bursting bubbles

The consequences of yesterday's by-elections will reverberate for some time. In Wales Labour failed to win back the seats they had lost to the Peter Law insurgency by quite spectacular majorities in the context of the history of Blaenau Gwent.

This area is Labour heartland, the home of Aneurin Bevan and the power-base of Michael Foot. These results will have far-reaching consequences, not least on the balance of power in the Welsh Assembly. If Rhodri Morgan was holding on before because Peter Law and David Davies were forced to balance their time between Westminster and Cardiff, he will find it even more difficult to get his way now that Peter's widow is there full-time.

Bromley and Chislehurst was simply a sensation. In what was the seventeenth safest Tory seat in the whole country, the Conservatives only clung on after a recount. In fact, they had the worst by-election result in a seat they held since Wirral South, in the depths of John Major's unpopularity. The story isn't much better for Labour either. They sunk to fourth place, losing two-thirds of their votes. It is the first time the party in government has finished fourth in an English by-election since Liverpool Walton, way back in 1991.

In many ways this result is a welcome relief for the Ming Campbell leadership. He has been beseiged over the first few weeks because of poor performances in the House of Commons and his low visibility. There were signs that he was starting to come back from that. Prime Minister's questions were ceasing to be such an ordeal, he took the initiative on taxation and other policy issues and the Liberal Democrats had started to reverse their small decline in the polls. Bromley and Chislehurst has the potential to fuel that mini-revival and to give us the attention we need to keep climbing.

How this will impact on Cameron's bubble has yet to be seen, but if he built his opinion poll lead on the basis of perceived success in the local elections then a setback like this must augur badly for his future. A few weeks ago a Liberal Democrat Councillor defected to the Tories in a fit of pique at his failure to be re-selected as our candidate in Swansea West. This result could well cause him to think this morning that that was not such a good career move.
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