I don't often write about English politics, but there's always room for an exception. Labour has announced that the by-election for Norwich North will be held on 25 July. Ian Gibson—rather peeved at the way he felt he had been unfairly singled out in the expenses scandal by the Star Chamber—decided to resign straight away rather than wait until the next general election.
He won the seat quite comfortably in 2005 with 44.9% of the vote, the Tories getting 33.2% and LibDems 16.2%. But things might be a little different this time round. Last week, ICM conducted a survey in the constituency. The results were:
Con ... 25%
Lab ... 17%
Green ... 9%
LibDem ... 8%
Other ... 5%
Don't know ... 24%
Refused ... 11%
What is remarkable is the very high percentage of don't knows and refusers.
But one other thing is going to make this an interesting by-election. If you look at the Euro Election results, Norwich was one of the three English areas in which the Greens topped the poll (Brighton and Oxford were the other two) ... and by a very handsome margin. The results were:
Green ... 25.0%
Con ... 17.5%
Lab ... 16.7%
LibDem ... 15.0%
UKIP ... 12.3%
Others ... 13.4%
This leads me to think that this might be a much more closely fought contest than pollsters who use the three party model might suggest. I suspect the Tories will win it, not least because of the ward-by-ward figures in the local elections. But I think there's a very real likelihood that the Greens will be their main challengers ... a view that Michael Crick of the BBC seems to share.
This is quite momentous in that the Greens have never got close to being in such a good position in England before. It opens up the possibility of the progressive, left-of-centre vote coalescing behind the Greens in this by-election; drawing support from traditional Labour voters who have every reason to be unhappy with Labour, and from a LibDem party that still hasn't managed to get over any message about what it's meant to be for.
In Wales, we have a left-of-centre party that offers an alternative to Labour. England has not had this ... and it is probably for this very reason that Labour in England has felt that it can move further and further to the right. They took it for granted that anyone who was left of centre would have to vote for them because there was no credible alternative.
In my opinion the Greens stand the best chance of becoming that alternative in England. I hope so. Perhaps it would be too much to hope that they might win, but by-elections are unpredictable things, especially when the number of don't knows and refusers is as high as 35%. So maybe, just maybe, Rupert Read can pull it off.
It might also be worth noting (the Scotsman certainly has) that the Labour party did not move a writ for the Glasgow North East by-election to also be held on 25 July, as had been expected. No prizes for guessing why. On 24 July last year Labour lost Glasgow East to the SNP.