Is Corbyn's Labour already cutting the mustard with local voters?
One interest I found I share with Ukip's leader Nigel Farage is that both us every week check the Twitterfeed of @britainelects - which provides details of every local council by-election in Britain.
Our exchange at the book launch of Lord Ashcroft's Call Me Dave unauthorised biography revealed that both of us have a healthy scepticism of opinion polls but a mutual interest in seeing how real voters are turning out to vote in by elections across the country.
Corbyn's mauling in the mainstream media coupled with distrust among the Parliamentary party one might expect no one in their right mind to vote Labour and for evidence in advance of the Oldham Parliamentary by-election that he is already in trouble.
In fact the reverse is true which might explain why the same mainstream media has been rather quiet about it. Three by-elections in totally different seats have seen huge swings to Labour. I write about this in Tribune magazine this week.
They are Euxton North ward in Chorley, Lancashire; South Camberwell in London and Banbury in Oxfordshire..
In Chorley the party recorded a 12.7 per cent wing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes. The Tories were second and saw their vote drop by 0.3 per cent with 443 votes. The victor Labour's Tommy Gray(pictured above) got a much bigger vote than he expected.
In South Camberwell, in the London Borough of Southwark, Labour recorded a 9 per cent swing – winning with 1,244 votes – and taking a 57.9 per cent share of the vote. The party’s nearest rival, the Greens, saw a 1.3 per cent drop and the Tories were down 1.4 per cent. Only the Lib Dems, who were third, recorded a small increase of 2.3 per cent but polled just 200 votes.
In Banbury, Oxfordshire, saw Labour take a seat from the Conservatives on a 5.9 per cent swing –taking 45 per cent of the vote in the Grimsby and Castle ward in the town. The Tory vote fell by 7 per cent and the Lib Dem vote fell by 1.5 per cent. UKIP’s share of the vote did rise 5.6 per cent – but the party only got 150 votes. Labour polled 781.
The results are not mainly good for UKIP whose plan to oust Labour as the party of the Opposition in the North is plainly not working as their council candidates are taking a mauling in some seats and making no progress in others. The Tories are very resilient. their vote is going up from a low base in Scotland and they have made four gains this autumn - three from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. They also put in a credible performance in Barrow where they gained 23 per cent in a traditional Labour seat almost ousting the UKIP opposition candidate. And Labour are still falling back in Scotland.
The one bad result for Labour in England has been Bury where the Tories took a seat from them with a swing approaching 14 per cent - but other parties also lost votes.
The Lib Dems seem to be reviving in rural areas - running the Tories close in one seat and taking a Sussex seat - but they are still declining in urban areas. They can boast one landslide result in Torbay when their former MP Adrian Sanders held a seat on a 39 per cent swing. But the same night they lost their third seat to the Tories in Aberdeen.
All this suggests that there is still a lot to play for - but Labour which had a huge rise in membership following Corbyn's victory is more than holding its own and getting some spectacular swings.
The Tory narrative put forward by Cameron and Osborne is also still hitting a nerve - otherwise they would not be gaining seats. All this makes the December 3 by-election in Oldham the more interesting.