Friday, November 07, 2008

Glenrothes - Post Game Analysis

So, now it's all over, and I've had some sleep, what does the Glenrothes result mean for everyone.

For us, the result was disappointing but not surprising given that we were not perceived as the challengers from the outset. The media portrayed the Glenrothes battle as one between Labour and the SNP and given the resources we had available, there wasn't a huge amount we could do about that.

Wait until the Election Expense returns are in in around 5 weeks time - I expect that they will show that both Labour and the SNP spent not a million miles away from the £100,000 limit. On the other hand, we will not have spent that much more than the limit for fighting a Westminster constituency in a General Election. It's hardly surprising that we have been seen to lose ground when we have been outspent by a margin of around 6:1 by two rivals.

Being in second place also brings in lots of people to your campaign. There are some stalwarts who go to every by-election. I have to thank particularly a dedicated Lib Dem called Roger from Saffron Walden who came up to Livingston for a week and turned up in Glenrothes last weekend. He has probably seen every door in Markinch more than once in the time he was with us. We had a committed core of people who were never away from the place, but it wasn't a Dunfermline when people flocked from far and near to help out.

I am very proud to have been even a small part of a fantastic campaign team. I think the messages we had were good and positive, showing we understood about the difficulties people were facing and putting forward our unique solutions. The literature was top notch but again where the SNP were managing to deliver the entire constituency by lunchtime on successive days in the end, we couldn't match that - and even if we'd had more people, we couldn't have afforded to do much more than we did.

I stand by what I always said, that Harry Wills would make the best MP for Glenrothes, but the odds were always stacked against us purely from a money point of view and the fact that the media encouraged the thinking that it was a tight fight between the SNP and Labour. The Times, for example, one day this week didn't even mention that we or the Tories existed, and when other publications did mention us it was clearly as also rans with a tiny proportion of the report devoted to us despite us coming up with some good opportunities and messages.

The Tories have no real reason to be any happier than we are with the result. I thought the quality of the stuff they put out wasn't that great. I guess they spent more money and did more direct mail, but nothing they had to say was relevant, distinctive or likely to appeal in Glenrothes.

Labour deserves congratulations for ploughing on with a campaign that seemed on many occasions doomed to failure. They got some things spectacularly wrong - that awkward Sarah Brown visit for a start, and some of their campaign literature was appalling both in terms of quality and content. Last weekend they put out a tawdry risographed A3 entitled the Fifer which carried yet more scaremongering about home care charges and a scurrilous allegation that Peter Grant's people told a Levenmouth resident with problems that he was only bothered with Glenrothes at the moment. I don't believe that for one moment. Peter Grant may be from the SNP, but he's not the Anti-Christ and I don't doubt that he cares very deeply about the people he represents.

However, I have to say that the leaflet they delivered yesterday was very good and their artwork of a pair of scissors going through the SNP logo clever enough to make me wish I'd thought of it.

Lindsay Roy is a decent guy and an excellent rector. He does seem uncomfortable in the spotlight, though, and I can't see him attaining high ministerial office any time soon. I was a little disappointed, and perhaps felt a bit cheated, that he didn't seem to have any sense of elation about having won. I know that the last by-election winner in Fife, Willie Rennie, was thrilled to have been given the privilege of being an MP and threw himself into the role with a huge amount of passion - which he still continues to display. I hope that when the spotlight fades he becomes more settled in his new role.

What this victory does not mean is that Labour's problems are over. The economic crisis overshadowed the campaign and, for now, the voters did not want a change, particularly to a party who have not covered themselves in glory and whose comparisons of Scotland to Iceland have led people to think again about the idea of independence.

This was no Glasgow East. There was a residual affecton for the previous incumbent, it was on the PM's doorstep, and came at a time of huge economic uncertainty and crisis, when people tend to opt for the status quo. In many ways it was a lucky escape for Labour. I suspect that their failures over HBOS will become more and more of an issue in months to come. When the job losses start to hit, the former employees will remember who tried to protect them both at Holyrood and Westminster.

As for the Nats, well, how the mighty are fallen. They have been strutting around the constituency like they own it for weeks. They were everywhere yesterday. You could hardly turn a corner without bumping into Alex Salmond at any point in the last few weeks. I actually feel sorry for the ordinary activists who invested time and money in the campaign and who lost out. I have absolutely no sympathy for a man who blatantly takes the electorate for granted by almost promising victory "My prediction is we'll win. We're nearly there." Alex Salmond has taken responsibility for the campaigns failings . Time will tell if hubris has turned to humility but I'm not sure if this leopard can change his spots.

I'm not sure how much of an impact the home care charges issue did have on the SNP campaign. One mistake the SNP made was to let Labour build a head of steam on this. Labour would have introduced a pretty similar scheme themselves. There are times when you don't really want to allow your opponent to lead you off your own messages - but I think there was a case for strong rebuttal on this one, which just didn't happen enough.

I think Labour won because of the economy at this point in time against a principal opponent who was perceived to be weak on the issue. Alex Salmond has not had a good credit crunch and I doubt he is going to have a good recession either. I suspect that Labour would not have done so well in a tight Labour/Lib Dem contest where the credibility of Vince Cable and his ideas would have come more to the fore.

All of the parties have lessons to learn from Glenrothes. I actually think that while by-elections deliver temporary momentum, given the widening disparity in the expenses limits - they used to be about 3 times what you could spend in a General Election, now it's around 8 times - they are not a terribly effective barometer of the political scene in general. You can't extrapolate from the future from them - and nobody knows that better than the SNP - from victory to wound licking in three and a half months.
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