Sadly comments on the result of our Batley and Spen by-election, even from the Labour Party, stress the narrowness of their win rather than the glaring failure of the Tories to take the seat, which they were widely predicted to do.
Labour had two massive obstacles to overcome. First, the Conservative vote in 2019 was reduced by the presence on the ballot paper of a right wing so-called Heavy Woollen District candidate, Paul Halloran who attracted 6 439 votes (12.2%). When it was announced that Halloran had decided (been persuaded?) not to stand in the by-election "progressive" hearts sank: without him to split their vote the Tories were almost bound to win.
Then in addition the maverick former Labour MP George Galloway entered the fray for the so called "Workers' Party, thus potentially splitting the Labour vote.
Labour had not one but two obstacles to overcome, two mountains to climb.
In these circumstances it is astonishing that the Tories failed to take the seat. That is what, in my view, should be in the headlines
In last Saturday's Guardian the normally perceptive Jonathan Freedman claimed that "Batley and Spen saw a 2.9% swing away from Labour and towards the Conservatives, the largest swing to a govenmt party in 39 years" (My emphasis). This, if technically correct, is highly misleading.
In fact their percentage share of the vote fell for both Labour (-7.4 percentage points) and Conservatives (-1.6). This was presumably largely due to the presence of no less than 14 other candidates. Interestingly the Conservatives do no seem to have benefited much from Halloran's 6000+ votes.
The alleged 2.9% "Swing" is calculated by taking the difference between the two changes in share of the vote (7.4 - 1.6 = 5.8) and dividing it by 2 (=2.9 ). The impression that 2.9% of voters switched from Labour to Conservative may have made sense in the 1950s and the days of "two horse races" and Peter Snow's "swingometer."
It makes no sense in a multiparty contest in which increases and decreases in major parties' shares are likely to be the result of shifts to other parties rather than direct swaps between the two major parties.
The real message of the Batley and Spen by-election is a major Conservative failure to win a contest weighted in their favour. Together with the massive Liberal Democrat victory in Chesham and Amersham, it is another sign that Mr Johnson's Teflon carapace is not impregnable.