by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2008
It’s the day of the most bizarre by-election of the year. Exactly one month after David Davis shocked the political world by quitting the Tory front bench and Parliament in protest at Labour’s attempts to push through 42 days detention without trial, the voters of Haltemprice and Howden today deliver their verdict.
Will they judge Mr Davis’s move a brave, principled stance by turning out in force and giving him a whopping mandate? Or will they judge it all a vanity-exercise, a waste of taxpayers’ time and money, and simply stay away or register a protest vote with a fringe candidate?
With neither the Lib Dems – the main challengers to Mr Davis in Haltemprice and Howden – nor Labour standing this time, it’s clear Mr Davis will win. The question is how well will he win? The result will likely be judged by the following three criteria:
Mr Davis will be hoping that at least half the electorate will go to the polls. In Crewe and Nantwich, in May, 58% of voters showed up; in Henley the figure was 50%. Given the lack of credible opposition to Mr Davis, he can probably argue that anything over 40% is respectable. The further it falls below that threshold, the less plausible that will seem.
His margin of victory
Here’s what happened in the 2005 general election:
David Davis, Conservative – 22,792, 47.5%
Jon Neal, Liberal Democrat – 17,676, 36.8%
Edward Hart, Labour – 6,104, 12.7%
Jonathan Mainprize, British National Party – 798, 1.7%
Philip Lane, UK Independence Party – 659, 1.4%
Mr Davis is the only candidate from that line-up still standing, so he will hope and expect to get at least 70% of the vote at this by-election. Anything below that will be embarrassing; the further it rises above that threshold the more convincing will be his mandate.
With the BNP and UKIP both sitting out this by-election, the contest has been left to the Greens as the only nationally recognised party to stand against Mr Davis. Though they have no track record in the constituency, it will nonetheless be a significant embarrassment if the Greens find themselves in anything other than the runner-up spot. However, as they are seeking to outflank Mr Davis on the liberal-left, they do face some stiff competition from two independents fighting on traditional right-wing, lock ‘em up tickets: Jill Saward, self-proclaimed champion of victims of crime; and former Tory MP Walter Sweeney.
What do you think will happen in the by-election? Feel free to post your predictions in the comments thread.