Henley by-election: open (speculation) thread

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.

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This entry was posted in Parliamentary by-elections.


  • Oliver Johnson 26th Jun '08 - 5:12pm

    My (optimistic and no-doubt misguided) prediction is that:
    * Labour will lose their deposit (with around 3% of the vote)
    * The Conservatives will win, but:
    * The Lib Dems will gain from the Tories;
    * To leave the Tories with a majority of around 5000.

    The analysis would then be your points 2 and 3 – still three-party politics, bad news for Labour, the Lib Dems won’t do so badly in the south, and the Tories can’t take a landslide for granted.

  • Oliver Johnson 26th Jun '08 - 5:17pm

    Stephen Kearney is an excellent candidate, but he will almost certainly lose. But he is too good to not keep on the LibDem team. There are about half a dozen LD MPs retiring, including those for SE Cornwall and Truro (near Kearney’s previous home of Plymouth) so maybe he can be selected to replace one of those?

  • Expectation management so soon? The polls haven’t even closed!

    If Labour collapses as expected, those votes are certain to transfer to the Libs in heavier numbers than to the Tories. Hence you would expect a reduced Tory majority. If it even holds up at what it was, that would be a good Tory result.

  • Cynical liberal 26th Jun '08 - 6:10pm

    Tory majority increases and we see a direct switch Lab to Tory; Lib Dem vote dips slightly; Rennard gets the chop,etc…

  • I’d be interested to see people’s views on the campaign.

  • Et tu Dane! your party (not standing, despite your valiant efforts at the NEC) has shown equal perfidy over referenda, one minute being opposed to all referenda, the next making an exception for issues that are popularist.

    The prospect of your party president speaking in favour of UKIP at Henley, has caused some serious concerns.

  • Gareth Epps 26th Jun '08 - 7:07pm

    Just come back having been there all day. V positive reception on doorstep. Regrettably there are BNP on polling stations in Henley. Met a number of former Conservatives saying they were voting Liberal Democrat.

  • Gareth – any indications as to why they were former Conservatives?

  • Martin Land 26th Jun '08 - 7:11pm

    9% Swing was my prediction from day one. A couple of visits haven’t changed my mind. But I have been very impressed by the Tory literature.

  • Liam Pennington 26th Jun '08 - 7:52pm

    Grace ASTLEY – Independent
    David BISHOP – Church of the Militant Elvis Party
    Ronnie CARROLL – Make Politicians History
    Mad COW-GIRL – Official Monster Raving Loony Party
    David CRAIG – Independent
    Herbert CROSSMAN – Independent
    Tess CULNANE – National Front
    Thomas DARWOOD – Independent
    David DAVIS – Conservative Party
    Tony FARNON – Independent
    Eamonn FITZPATRICK – Independent
    Christopher FOREN – Independent
    Gemma GARRETT – Miss Great Britain Party
    George HARGREAVES – Christian Party
    Hamish HOWITT – Freedom 4 Choice
    David ICKE – (no description)
    John NICHOLSON – Independent
    Shan OAKES – Green Party
    David PINDER – The New Party
    Joanne ROBINSON – English Democrats
    Jill SAWARD – Independent
    Norman SCARTH – Independent
    Walter SWEENEY – Independent
    Christopher TALBOT – Socialist Equality Party
    John UPEX – Independent
    Greg WOOD – Independent

  • James Shaddock 26th Jun '08 - 9:53pm

    Hearsay has it the BNP may have edged 3rd place

  • David Langshaw 26th Jun '08 - 10:15pm

    BNP telling in Sonning Common as well. But so what? If they haven’t done the canvassing, there is no point to the exercise other than to remind the public of their existence. I doubt if any floating voters will be persuaded to vote for the BNP just because some bloke at the Polling Station asks for their number.

  • Hywel Morgan 26th Jun '08 - 11:22pm

    Disappointing that no-one in H&H stood after changing their name by deed poll to Alan Berrisford B’stard 🙂

  • For what it’s worth, the BBC is predicting a high turnout, and claims that the Lib Dems have done well.

  • The conservatives need a margin of 15 points above the Lib Dems in order to feel comfortable. Let’s see…

  • According to politicalbetting.com, it’s worse than that – Con 55-60.

    Maybe even a swing from Lib Dem to Con?

  • Terry Gilbert 27th Jun '08 - 1:36am

    Lib Dems would have done far better in this election with a local candidate.

  • So, a swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives.

    Does anyone know when that last happened in a by election?

  • Ah, yes.

    I suppose I was thinking of elections in which we stood a chance of winning. But then again, having said that …

  • Elsewhere conservatives are crowing about how their rebuttal machine is proving its worth and that they have absorbed the lessons of previous by-elections. Some even think they now have our measure, so there will need to be some head-scratching behind closed-doors whatever the exact result.

  • A swing of less than 1% – insignificant.

    What’s interesting is that the turnout in Henley was lower than Crewe which suggests that the Tories still haven’t gone from being the chief opposition (which they couldn’t even claim under IDS). But I’m sure the Tories are working on that.

  • So – before I pop off to bed, what’s the take-home message?

    Really quite a good result? Not quite as good as Bromley, but jolly promising nonetheless?

  • I think we should congratulate Richard McKenzie – he got more votes than he ever got as a councillor!

  • Thame Resident 27th Jun '08 - 2:56am

    I thought the speech was bizzar. A bad night for the Conservatives who increased the share of the vote ?

  • This is not a good result for the Lib Dems, and unless it acts as a wakeup call for the people leading the party, worse is to come.

    If it does act as a wake-up call, then so much the better, the worse result would have been a false dawn of a small swing to the Lib Dems which persauded people that all we have to do is to carry on as we are and wait for something to turn-up.

    As it is, the party is no making progress and not winning voters over despite the collapse of the Labour party and the fact the even the tories think the tories are rubbish. In such circumstances the party should be soaring in the polls and in by-elections but instead insists of shooting itself in the foot on issues like the Lisbon treaty

  • Anyone who thinks it is a good thing that the governing party finishes behind the BNP
    is gravely mistaken.

  • Lesley Walsh 27th Jun '08 - 7:09am

    Do you think Stephen Kearney will fight the seat at the next election? After all he has moved there.

  • Lib Dems winning here!

    I wonder if the next issue of “The View” – that long running local magazine (which curiously only appeared in the Henley constituency) will have any coverage of the result?

  • Peter Chapman 27th Jun '08 - 8:37am

    This sort of campaign (by an excellent candidate and team )will probably save 2/3rd of our Mp’s up against tories and we may pick up a few from Labour.

    However we seem to have failed to realise that the whole political scene has changed and now “‘its the economy stupid!”

    The green belt and post offices are all very well but what have we got to say about the cost of transport in rural areas, or the housing crisis or inflation
    or fuel costs or above inlfation council taxes or Jobs or the credit crunch?

    When did we last say who would you prefer to run the econmy George Osborne or Vince Cable on a leaflet

    We need to build on these issues in by elections with a distinctive message if we are going to do more than hold our own
    Localism is of course vital but people are looking for a National Party and answer at the moment and we seem to be avoiding that issue in our campaigning

    Id be interested to hear what others think?

  • Grammar Police 27th Jun '08 - 8:44am

    What to make of the result? A bad night for Labour clearly; pretty good result for the Tories (but most Tories will say there was never really a shadow of a doubt that they would lose – even so, they looked pretty jittery at times). And for us? A mixed result. Obviously it was good not to be squeezed, and given the national polls for both LDs and the Tories, not a bad result for us to increase our share of the vote. However, we pumped in massive resources to stand still. We won’t be able to do that at a General Election. Perhaps we would have done better if more people came to help – something I’ve heard at each by election since Bromley. Perhaps we can some learn lessons on how to motivate the troops. But even if we do, at a General Election there are always going to be fewer activists about to help in target areas.

  • I’m not sure we should be disappointed, as turnout remained reasonably high and the Conservatives failed to rack up any further adavntage.

    All of which suggests the public is not falling at their feet and doesn’t offer any bodings for GE predictions.

    I’d say we were overoptimistic in appraising Henley as a potential swing seat (those of us who did), as instead we fought to a stalemate from what otherwise would have been a rearguard action (and was abandoned by Labour as a walkover).

    So, taken in combination with C&N, while we are still effective the Conservative have learnt some of our lessons and are benefiting from having the wind at their backs.

    But the wind doesn’t blow in one direction forever neither will all future fights be on such favorable territory for our opponents.

  • When the Lib Dems won Newbury, Christchurch and Eastleigh, the turnout was substantially higher (over 70% in Newbury, if I remember rightly).

    It seems to me that the core Tory vote came out, plus a protest vote against the government, but much of the non-partisan vote (which tends to go heavily Lib Dem in byelections) stayed at home.

    Henley is consistent with the May local election results, where the Tories made big gains from Labour, but failed to make headway against the Lib Dems, who basically stood still.

    It isn’t good enough, but it is an awful lot better than the byelections in safe Tory seats during the Wilson/Callaghan governments, where Liberals got nowhere.

    Remember Bournemouth East? Even the reason for the byelection (an MP who had links to Poulson) failed to stop the Tories walking it.

  • Darrell, I don’t peddle mindless optimist and I don’t think it’s helpful to create a conjunction out of those two particular words (I’d have thought they were contradictory, if not exclusive). Anyway positive realism is more effective than simple optimism.

    I thikn its easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment, but hell, isn’t excitement as close to inspiration as it normally gets?

    Agree with you over your anti-propaganda thoughts. Call me old-fashioned if you like, I still think the taking part is as important as the winning (hmm, I disagree with myself over H&H…).

  • If we are not honest, we will go nowhere.

    This is not a “good” result. It is not even “acceptable”.

    So – we need to understand why when Brown is so unpopular people are not motivated to vote for us. Darrell makes some good points – sugggest people go over to the “Chris Rennard” thread to comment more.

  • Darrell, I know what you mean and it leaves me shaking my head in dismay sometimes, which is a turn-off in politics as far as I’m concerned. However I once suggested we put a big ‘Join Here’ poster in our constituency office window and I got a similar shake of the head.

    If you can think of something better that’d be great – maybe a LDV suggestions competition and poll could be in order?

  • Peter Chapman – totally agree on the using the economy which has traditionally been a weakness for us but could now become a strength because some of our MP’s have an excellent track record in business. We should be promoting Vince cable a lot more in tandem with Nick Clegg.

  • Darrell, something to mull over and write an article on later, perhaps…

    Dane, please get of your cocked horse and contribute if you’ve got something to say, you’re getting overly repetitive (and I’m a big fan of electronic music, so that’s saying something).

  • Dane, you’re spilling over into singularly negative criticism, try being constructive, will you? I think that’s how I’d describe our attitude towards Europe, also termed ‘EU-realist’, fyi.

  • Dane, sometimes you sparkle with wit, sometimes you are so dull you make rust shine.

    The by-the-by slip was probably due to crossover with other threads here, but it did provide an opportunity to illuminate how your words and actions don’t match.

    Now you wish to twist and wriggle with presentational language at the expense of greater substance.

    To draw a comparison: I’m critical of the EU, just as I’m critical of Israel. My criticisms are only valid and are only acceptable because I accept the existence and right to exist of both.

    You, on the other hand, are both critical and opposed to the EU.

    May I ask if you are consistent in your approach with regard to Israel and how many friends that wins you among Israelis to listen to your views?

    Frankly your political position is unsustainable, just as it is politically unsustainable for politicians in the middle-east to avoid making greater efforts to control and reduce organised violence across or within their borders. Some will of course argue the opposite and play to the watching gallery and vested interests, but it cannot last, and we mustn’t let it.

  • Fun though this is Dane, I don’t feel this conversation is progressing anywhere productive (or at least not fast enough).

    I don’t really want to know what your particular views on any subject are because that will only end up with us going round the houses, instead I was trying to draw you on how you build your approach into a consistent thread to try to understand what your ‘liberal’ viewpoint actually means in practise. I only raised the subject of Israel as a means to draw a stark comparison – if you feel this is invalid, I would of course be interested to learn why you think so.

    After all, it is you who has criticised this party for not being what we suggest it is, whereas I contend your claims are both fatuous and baseless. I do however wish to listen to you try to demonstrate how your thinking unties the knots you’ve made for yourself, but as yet you seem either unwilling or unable to make the attempt.

    To address your complaints for a moment – you’re really scraping the barrel in trying to discover where it isn’t watertight. I admire your patience in trying to do so, but I question both your motivation and reasoning.

    Really, in continuing this online chat here across the Liberal-LibDem divide you must want to be convinced that you share our beliefs, but are struggling against the resistance of your persoanl prejudices and emotional investment in them.

    We all welcome constructive contributions within the terms of the debate, so however much we disagree and on whatever we dispute I’m still pretty sure we can find common ground to alleviate any lingering concerns.

    On the other thread you raise electoral reform, which offers encouragement, but although you seem fixed in your preference it remains an ongoing debate which has yet to reach a definitive conclusion (or indeed a modicum of consensus) – so I hope you are able to keep open the possibility for fresh thinking on that as well as other matters.

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