Glasgow East by-election (July 23rd 2008)
By the time that this article thuds onto your doormat the result of the Glasgow east by-election will either be imminent or already known. The outcome of this contest has been sensationalised by the commentariat as apocalyptic. Money thrown at Crewe and Nantwich was money down the electoral drain and efforts to buy, through a belated better deal for the armed forces and for the motorist, votes in Glasgow have been so risibly transparent that only the most unbelievably gullible are likely to be impressed. If the Scottish Nationalist Party takes the seat it could be silver bullet time for the Prime Minister and if Labour scrapes home with anything less than a 4,000 majority in this "safe" seat then the result will be presented rightly not as a win but as a damaging loss.
It seems to me that neither outcome is likely to change the course of political history by more than a matter of months. Gordon Brown's premiership is a busted flush and has been so for some time. His reputation for prudence is in tatters, the economy is failing, businesses are going bust, homeowners are losing their houses, household expenditure is rising with fuel costs out of control and the word "recession" is on the lips of all but the purists.
In the House of Commons any Labour Members of Parliament with majorities of less than ten thousand regard themselves as dead men walking. Many who have learned the lesson of the 1997 Conservative meltdown and including personal friends of mine (we may not agree politically but that does not stop us liking each other) , are prudently preparing either for retirement or alternative employment.
We should not, though, assume that the political demise of Gordon Brown and "new" Labour will lead automatically and inexorably to an overall Conservative majority in an immediate, 2009 or 2010 General Election. To win outright my party has to take an additional one hundred and thirty seats of which a third are held not by Labour but by the Liberal Democrats. That mountain to climb represents a higher hurdle than any taken, save for 1997, since 1945. A betting man might therefore put as much money on a hung parliament, with the Conservatives as the largest single party, as on an outright win and with fiscal chaos to address it will not be a pretty or a comfortable parliament for either the next government or the governed.
In the longer term and in the history books the result of the Haltemprice and Howden by election may prove to be more significant than Glasgow East. The National Press hated both the contest and the outcome. Editors and Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, a team that hunts as a pack and is not renowned for individual courage, have found it hard to accept that a Member of Parliament might not only resign his seat and stand on a matter of principle but that the electorate would then return him, on what for the by-election was a passably respectable turnout, with a huge percentage of the vote and a tripled majority. (On the morning after the result the frost in the BBC news readers voice would have reversed the process of Global Warming at an instant had it been let out of the studio!)
Up on the streets of Willerby and Kirk Ella, where I spent some time campaigning for my friend David Davis, the feeling was palpable. People do really care about the liberty of the individual and once the argument was explained and won a claimed majority in favour of detention without trial melted into a clear majority against the Home Secretary's position. She, of course, will not resign but she has lost the battle. It is now up to those of us on both sides of the House of Commons who support this cause to hammer the stake through the heart of Big Brother Britain. It may be late but it is not yet too late.