Henley by-election: open (speculation) thread

by Stephen Tall on June 26, 2008

There are just five hours til polls close in today’s by-election to decide who will succeed Boris Johnson as MP for Henley.

The widespread expectation is of a Tory victory – it is one of their safest seats – but there has been a great deal of energy behind Stephen Kearney and the Lib Dem team, so no-one’s ruling out a reduction in the Tory majority, or even a shock result.

Here’s what happened the last time the seat was contested, in 2005:
Conservative (Boris Johnson): 24,894 (54%)
Liberal Democrat (David Turner): 12,101 (26%)
Labour (Kaleem Saeed): 6,862 (15%)
Green (Mark Stevenson): 1,518 (3%)
UKIP (Delphine Gray-Fisk): 1,162 (3%)
Turnout: 68%

It strikes me there are three key questions which will determine how the result is viewed:

1. Has the Tory majority – either in actual or percentage terms – increased? If yes, then there’s no doubting this is a good result for the Conservatives.

2. How close can the Lib Dems get to the Tories; can we even overtake them? It would take a 15% Con-to-LD swing for the Lib Dems to win: that would be phenomenal. However, any increase in Lib Dem support at all would suggest that there are still folk willing to switch to the Lib Dems from the Tories – which bodes well for the party’s prospects in other southern England constituencies; and from Labour – despite Tory suggestions after the Crewe by-election that Labour defectors are switching direct to the Tories.

3. The question for Labour is how far their vote gets squeezed. No-one expects them to match their 15% in 2005; PoliticalBetting.com’s Mike Smithson believes they will lose their deposit and score below 5%, which would be a truly crushing defeat. The question is: who will those Labour voters switch to? If we were back in the two-party politics the media likes to promote, it should logically be the Tories who will be beneficiaries – in which case their majority should increase. If they switch in any number to the Lib Dems, perhaps the media will bear in mind that three-party politics remains the order of the day.