Richard North, 16/07/2004  

Whatever spin Dr Liam Fox might like to put on the results, for the Conservative Party to come third in both of these by-elections, at this stage in the electoral cycle, is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
To take a mere 18 percent of the vote in Hodge Hill, after coming second at the last general election, is frankly pathetic.  And that the Liberal Democrats came within 460 votes of winning, with 36 percent of the vote - as against Labour's 38 percent - pressages a dire result for the Tories in the next general election.
To take 19 percent of the vote in Leicester South was not much better.  Labour took 29 percent and, with the Lib-Dems winning on 35 percent of the vote,  this confirms that Mr Howard has failed to capture the imagination of the electorate.
But the clear winner was the "apathy party".  Turnout in Hodge Hill was 41 percent and in Leicester South it was a mere 36 percent.  Post-election analysis will undoubtedly show that, once again, the Conservative vote stayed at home.
For those who are seeking an explanation for this result, I can do not better than recommend that you re-read my colleague's prescient Blog, written but two days ago, entitled "Elephant in the room".
Very few knowledgeable pundits are now prepared even to consider the possibility of a general election victory for the Conservatives.  With UKIP absent from these elections, but predicted to be out in force at the general, the only betting is whether the Tories get less seats than they did last time.

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