It is always sad that when a sitting MP dies the first thoughts of the political classes are on the up-coming by election – and I am sure that such a hardy campaigner as Gwyneth Dunwoody was the same. She was 77 when she died yesterday and holds the distinction of being the longest ever serving female MP.
As her Wikipedia biography records she was first elected to the commons for Exeter in Harold Wilson’s 1966 general election victory. She lost at the 1970 election but then went onto to win Crewe in February 1974. The seat became Crewe and Nantwich in 1983 which she retained since then.
Gwyneth was a fiercely independent parliamentarian and for me her finest hour was in 2001 when she successfully resisted an attempt by Labour whips to remove her from the House of Commons’ Transport Committee. Gwyneth Dunwoody will be sadly missed enormously.
Her majority in May 2005 was 16.1% which means that the Tories need a swing of just over 8% to take the seat – a target that is in line with several recent polls. The latest YouGov poll recorded a swing from Labour to the Conservative on the last election of more than 9%.
Given the record of third term governments at their mid-term Cameron’s party really needs to be taking Crewe & Nantwich if it is going to be on target for a general election win. Yet the party’s record in this form of election is appalling. The last time it won a seat from another party in a by-election was in June 1982 in the super-charged political atmosphere of the Falklands War.
Looking at the results from last time the Lib Dems increased their share by 5% but, on the face of it, look too far behind to mount a significant challenge. But I would not bet against them. Remember Dunfermline in February 2006 when the party was leaderless and at rock bottom in the polls.
Crewe and Nantwich is an ideal opportunity for Nick Clegg to stamp his authority on his party and I have little doubt that plans swung into operation over-night to get ready for the coming fight.
The numbers say it should be a Tory gain but I’m not convinced that the party has the capabilities to win in this very special form of campaigning.