Stoke Central's result (below) is pleasing for a number of reasons. Labour has managed to retain a sizeable majority, despite the unfavourable circumstances arising from weariness with the government and, of course, those damaging shenanigans in the local party. However there is no room for complacency. Our canvassing returns flagged up too many people who had been Labour voters previously but were undecided which way to cast their ballot. The party has to make its presence felt across the constituency and be seen to pursue policies that go beyond the limp Third Wayism of the Labour Manifesto. With another general election likely before year's end and all-out council elections in Stoke next year, we have a window of opportunity to return to the kinds of social democratic policies that chime with the wider mood. But with many sections of the PLP scared of its Labourist shadow, what is its likelihood?
As predicted the LibDems came second. In the absence of any kind of campaign their gain can only be explained by the kind of LibDem surge they wished they'd had nationally. The Tories did run a good campaign, but it's difficult to say if Norsheen's vote was due to her team's efforts or the national swing to the right.
What did surprise me is the BNP vote. 7.7% is a lot but clearly out of step with the booming influence the fascists have enjoyed in The Potteries in recent years. I've just heard the BNP have lost one councillor in Bentilee to Labour, and the rumour mill has it their other sitting councillor will be dumped out too. Happy times. But again, the real action will take place at the all-out council elections next year. Whoever goes on to form the next government, the BNP could pick up disaffected votes and resume its ascendency. The only force capable of stopping the fascists is, with all its imperfections, the Labour party.
The other story of Stoke Central are the electoral dead ends of independent campaigns. In clumsy attempts to cash-in on the anti-politics mood, to greater or lesser degrees all the independents run on the theme that it is the existence of parties themselves that are to blame for the state of Stoke. For example, at last week's public meeting to launch Gary Elsby's campaign one prospective non-aligned councillor laid all its woes at the feet of the party whipping system and discipline. This criticism is overly proceduralist (no one would complain if Labour councillors were whipped in support of social democratic policies) and effectively relegates the critique of policy to a secondary issue. The other problem with independents is how do voters tell the difference between them? For all their faults, there is a general awareness of what the main parties (and the major minor parties) stand for - which is an advantage in national contests, but not so much in local elections. That is why independents might be a busted flush in Stoke where the general election is concerned, but I imagine they'll put up a stiff challenge next year.
Lastly, the TUSC vote was very disappointing. This will be considered in the analysis of the far left vote due to appear later.
Tristram Hunt (Labour) 12,605 votes (38.8%, -13.6%)
John Redfern (Liberal Democrat) 7,039 votes (21.7%, +3.1%)
Norsheen Bhatti (Conservatives) 6,833 votes (21%, + 3.7%)
Simon Darby (BNP) 2,502 votes (7.7%, + 0.1%)
Carol Lovatt (UKIP) 1,402 votes (4.3%, + 1.1%)
Paul Breeze (Ind) 959 votes (3%, + 3%)
Gary Elsby (Ind) 399 votes (1.2%, + 1.2%)
Brian Ward (City Independents) 303 votes (0.9%, + 0.9%)
Alby Walker (Ind) 295 votes (0.9%, + 0.9%)
Matt Wright (TUSC) 133 votes (0.4%, - 0.5%)
Turnout 32,470 (53.2%, + 4.5%)