This article titled “Ed Miliband claims public support for Labour on cuts after byelection win” was written by Severin Carrell and Andrew Sparrow, for The Guardian on Friday 1st July 2011 20.40 Europe/London
Ed Miliband said on Friday that Labour’s victory in the Inverclyde byelection showed firm support for his party’s claim that the coalition government at Westminster is imposing cuts that go “too far and too fast”.
Labour won the contest with a majority of 5,838, far higher than many of its MSPs and MPs had expected after an intense and heavily resourced campaign by the Scottish National party, which included repeated visits to the seat by the first minister, Alex Salmond.
Iain McKenzie, the local council leader, was elected with 53% of the vote, a similar margin won at the general election by his predecessor, David Cairns, a former minister whose sudden death in May prompted the byelection.
Labour has now held four seats in a row under Miliband’s leadership, after comfortable wins in Oldham East and Saddleworth, Barnsley, and Leicester South. There was some nervousness about Inverclyde, because the SNP were just 511 votes behind Labour in May in the Scottish parliament constituency that overlaps much of its Westminster counterpart, but in the event the SNP finished well behind Labour, securing 33% of the vote.
The Conservatives came third, with 10% of the vote, and the Liberal Democrats were humiliated, receiving just 627 votes (2.2%), and losing their deposit. This was their worst performance in a byelection since 1989.
The Lib Dem result was particularly bad because the party controlled the local authority in the area until 2007. But party sources in London shrugged off their drubbing, saying that they had had no money to spend in what was always going to be a Labour-SNP fight and that “when you’re in government, byelections don’t matter as much as when you’re in opposition”.
Miliband said: “At the Scottish general election in May the SNP won a big victory and, indeed, we only held the [Scottish parliament] seat in Inverclyde by 500 votes. We’ve increased the majority significantly, and that’s why I say it’s a good result holding off the SNP challenge.
“But I think the most important message is for the government in Westminster because they’re not performing well in seats like Inverclyde, and the voters there are sending them a clear message about jobs and about the deficit, and about them going too far and too fast.”
The SNP’s optimism about winning the seat, repeating its shock byelection victory in Glasgow East in 2008, had increased in the later stages of the campaign after its candidate, Anne McLaughlin, attracted significant levels of support on the doorstep. Kenny Gibson, the SNP’s campaign manager, said the party had achieved a swing of 9% and cut Labour’s majority by more than half in three weeks.
“The SNP campaign and the popularity of Anne McLaughlin cut Labour’s majority and puts Labour on notice that they can no longer take voters here for granted,” he said. “There will be real questions for Labour’s leadership after letting such a safe seat come so close to defeat.”
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