Just to underscore its position as the only national daily title that unequivocally supports Labour, the Mirror has mischievously run a piece today suggesting that there may be a by-election in the offing in Cannock Chase, represented at present by under-fire Tory Aidan Burley, who is being investigated by his party following a stag party he attended in the ski resort of Val Thorens.
While Burley being deep in the mire over his involvement in hiring an SS uniform and the various Third Reich related declamations is not in doubt, though, a snap by-election may be a step too far for the Tories. To see why, one need go no further than last year’s poll result: Burley’s majority is just over 3,000, and it could be wiped out without much effort by Labour.
Previously, Cannock Chase had seemed a solid Labour seat, with former MP Tony Wright scoring over 50% of the votes in 2005. However, as with Gwyneth Dunwoody in Crewe and Nantwich, there was a significant personal vote, and in 2010 both Tories and Lib Dems gained ground, the latter being significant given that the party lost MPs overall.
Since entering Government as part of the Coalition, the Lib Dems have suffered some grim election results, and their 17% vote share in Cannock Chase last time out must be considered as being up for grabs in any by-election. That is two and a half times Burley’s 2010 majority. Moreover, the Tory vote could suffer in a scenario where the sitting MP was removed as a result of misconduct.
On top of that, a by-election campaign would inevitably draw in large numbers of supporters from all parties, including the more ideologically driven part of the Conservative movement such as those in and around the Young Briton’s Foundation (YBF), who may get a warm feeling about their skewed view of the world, but would be more likely to alienate swing voters.
So while Young Dave has ordered an investigation into Burley’s conduct, his party will be in no hurry to force a by-election just yet. After all, Cameron’s poll “bounce” following his less than jolly good trip to Brussels is unlikely to survive the next of Macmillan’s “events” intact, and losing Cannock Chase so soon after Burley’s victory would give Mil The Younger a boost the Tories would rather he did not have.
All of which means that, while the Mirror may want to see a contest, and Labour will be ready and waiting, the party in whose gift the decision lies would be best served right now by not having one. That decision, of course, could be forced on the Tories if any more revelations are forthcoming, and the Dacre press is still on Aidan Burley’s case.
One to watch for the New Year.