Ouch. Turns out the Mail was right and I was wrong. Labour were indeed 'clinging on,' holding Heywood and Middleton by only 617 votes.
But it's not all bad, as that shows how wildly inaccurate Ashcroft's polling in, and he's a Tory, so I can jeer and scoff at him a bit.
Obviously, that result looks like a massive blow for Labour. It's actually more important in lots of ways that the far more predictable Clacton result. Yeah, UKIP have ot an MP - but that was a given, once Carswell announced he was defecting and triggered a by election. A UKIP win, for a popular local MP, in that part of the country, was pretty much a given.
But Labour getting bearded in their heartlands is very much against the form book.
Up until now the evidence has shown they are holding their vote and the UKIP are leeching Tory support. But getting (almost) taken to the cleaners in Manchester is a bit of a bad look. Especially when the preliminary polls (not just Ashcroft's to be scrupulously fair) were predicting a comfortable win for Labour.
It might not be as bad as it looks, as Labour's SHARE of the vote stayed stable - they still polled as as big a share of the vote much as they did at the general election. The UKIP share was made up of the collapse in the Tory and Lib Dem vote. The Conservative vote fell by almost 15 and the Liberal Democrat vote fell by almost 18% (The Liberal Democrat candidate appears to have retained his deposit, which is something of a novelty for the party, these days.) The BNP also got 7% in 2010 - with no official racist bigot to vote for, a lot of that would likely have gone the UKIP's way.
The interesting thing is the massive tactical vote here - previously, anti-Labour support had been harmlessly divided between the Tories and Lib Democrats. And the two parties hated each other sufficiently to ensure they would never sort out a tactical arrangement. Power seems to have shaken loose the adherents of both parties, however, and fate has gifted them a third option in the form of the UKIP. And having almost tasted victory tonight, they may be inclined to give it another go next year.
So Labour IS still holding onto its support. They can be relieved about that. But the other parties are losing theirs in such absurd numbers, and the previously fragmented Conservative / Lib Dem voters are uniting. It could be very interesting in 2015.
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