“This, the most sensational result in British by-election history bar none, represents the Bradford Spring”
George Galloway, Respect party, 29 March 2012
There’s no denying that booting Labour out of Bradford West – winning by 10,000 votes and overturning a 5,000 majority – was a sensational victory for gorgeous George.
But was it the most sensational ever – or has the excitement gone to Mr Galloway’s head?
FactCheck trawls through the history books to see how he measures up.
Mr Galloway won last night’s by-election with 55.9 per cent of the votes, sweeping Respect from fifth place at the 2010 general election to victory with a swing of 36.59 per cent against Labour.
This is a stunning swing, but it’s not the biggest. Two others have pipped Mr Galloway to the post.
In second place comes SNP candidate Winnie Ewing who in November 1967 won the Hamilton seat in Scotland from Labour with a 38 per cent swing.
But the clear victor is Simon Hughes’ career-starting win in February 1983. The Liberal Democrat took his Bermondsey seat with a swing of 44 per cent against Labour.
It’s worth pointing out however, that victorious independents such as Mr Galloway are “rare creatures”, YouGov’s Associate Director Anthony Wells told FactCheck.
And Professor Colin Rallings, an elections expert at Plymouth University, told us it was “unprecedented for a small party candidate to come from nowhere to win”.
Perhaps the only comparable was Dick Taverne’s win in 1973. But his win for Democratic Labour in Lincoln came after he had resigned the seat for which he was elected as a Labour MP.
Beating Labour was a great personal victory for Mr Galloway, but does it tell us anything about Labour’s standing nationally? Probably not. By-elections are too idiosyncratic to shed light on the national picture, said Mr Wells, adding: “It means nothing for the country (as a whole)”.
As for politically significant by-elections, he pointed to the Liberals’ win at Orpington in 1962 as the benchmark for turning the tide politically with a by-election.
The Liberals seized Orpington from the Conservatives in their first by-election victory in four years, with Eric Lubbock’s win boasting a 22 per cent swing.
As the first seat lost by the Conservative government since the 1959 general election, it was a humiliating blow to the Tories.
Mr Wells said: “It marked the re-birth of the Liberals, when they rose from the grave.”
Mr Galloway must accept the bronze gong for his victory in Bradford. Simon Hughes holds the current record for the most sensational swing in British history – with a 44 per cent swing against Labour in 1983.
That said, Mr Galloway is a “rare creature” indeed, and it’s quite some comeback.
Update: After publishing this FactCheck, Mr Galloway said in an interview with Channel 4 News: “I don’t think I was exaggerating”.
He went on to clarify his claim, narrowing it down to this: “No party to the left of Labour has ever taken a Labour seat in a period when Labour has been in the opposition”.
And we’ll give him that.
By Emma Thelwell