At the General Election in 2010 Corby swung to the Conservative Party, with former Minister Phil Hope losing out to Louise Mensch by 1951 votes, but today we are in a very different political landscape. The Westminster commentariat – thankful for something to focus on post-Olympics – will be watching this by-election like hawks, taking the result as a litmus test for the coalition and an early indicator for 2015.
The first thing to look at is what lost Labour the seat in 2010? With the steel town of Corby at the heart of the seat one might have assumed it was a shoe in for Labour, but not quite. The constituency of Corby straddles not only its industrial heartland but also covers the surrounding countryside and chocolate box villages of Northamptonshire, which are traditionally true blue. However in 2010 it appeared to be a backlash against expenses and apathy with Gordon Brown amongst the Corby working classes – rather than a big boost for the right – that won Louise Mensch the seat.
In communications terms then, one would assume that this is where the Labour Party will pitch its tent in the by-election – with the working classes and for the working classes. As such, we can anticipate language around the squeezed middle classes and responsible capitalism to be dropped in favour of a campaign framed around unemployment and cuts to public services. With long term youth unemployment nearly doubling in the last year in Corby, the 18-25 demographic will be a key target for Labour.
Cameron won’t want to give up a Conservative seat without a fight though, and with the Labour Policy Review still on-going, expect much from the right about the left’s lack of direction or assertion of what they stand for. But with the Bank of England confirming the economy is flat-lining yesterday, the Conservative default attack on its Labour inheritance may no longer wash with the voters who are feeling the pinch. Whatever happens, expect the pavements of Corby to be well-trodden by the party faithful from both sides from here on in.