Gordon Brown has had a bad year with by-elections in the UK. Four by-elections were held in two months in the summer of 2008. Labour lost the seat of Crewe and Nantwich to the Conservatives in May. Following the election of Conservative Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, his seat of Henley went to a by-election in June. Labour suffered an embarrassing result, coming fifth, behind the Greens and British National Party, polling 3.1%. Labour did not contest the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, triggered by the resignation of Conservative Shadow Home Secretary David Davis in protest over the Brown government’s counter-terrorism laws. Two weeks later, in late July, Labour suffered its worst blow, when Glasgow East, Labour’s third safest seat in Scotland, was lost to the Scottish National Party with a 26% swing. After four months relief, the voters of Glenrothes in Scotland go to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, following the death of Labour MP John McDougall from mesothelioma.
Brown was riding high in the polls straight after he succeeded Tony Blair in mid-2007 following the defeat of Labour in the Scottish parliamentary election. In October speculation grew that Brown would call a snap election, but following a negative poll Brown backed down. The last year has seen Brown miles behind David Cameron’s Conservative Party, while Labour has fallen further behind the Scottish National Party in Scottish polls for both Scottish and Westminster elections. May-July 2008 saw Labour lose two seats in Westminster as well as suffering many losses in council elections across England and Wales and the defeat of Labour in the London Mayoral election.
While it appeared that the SNP would be a favourite to win Glenrothes. It is much more marginal than Glasgow East, and lies close to the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, won by the Liberal Democrats off Labour in 2006. The local council is also run by a coalition of the SNP and Liberal Democrats, which has been rocked by statements made by council leader and SNP candidate Peter Grant regarding council policy. Gordon Brown’s performance in the polls has improved since the beginning of the financial crisis, with Brown’s internal critics in the party shelving plans to depose him as Prime Minister.
This will be the most significant by-election of Gordon Brown’s campaign so far. After a poor year, Brown has demonstrated that his economic abilities are still useful. Yet polls are yet to show Brown blunting Cameron’s advance. Alex Salmond is likewise dominant in Scottish politics. This is Brown’s best chance to strengthen his position, if he can manage to withhold the SNP tide. We’ll see what happens on November 6.