Labour got hammered in the Dunfermline and West Fyfe by-election. The safe Labour seat went Liberal Democrat, despite that party’s problems over the last few weeks and despite the close involvement of premier to be Gordon Brown. All are surprised, and the parties and pundits are grappling to discern the significance of the result. It’s a by-election, so nearly all explanations are valid: local factors; low turnout; voters knowing they wouldn’t change the government but wanting to protest and so on. In all of this some things are clear: people did want to protest and Gordon Brown is not the overwhelming force that Blair was at his height. Otherwise local difficulties could have been swept away by Labour chosen political message of government success now, and in the future with Gordon.
The problem for the government is two fold. In the short term bad by-elections make MPs nervous for their own electoral prospects. Now couple that with crunch votes in the commons on ID Cards and Terrorism this week and there is at least a small chance of a crisis. The longer term problem is Brown as Labour’s Plan A after Blair. Dunfermline might mean they need a Plan B.