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Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Saturday, 3 May 2008 09:03 UK

By-election fever

Max Cotton
Max Cotton
The Politics Show

Just around the bend after the Conservatives crossed the finishing line in first place in the local elections is another - arguably greater - challenge.

Following the recent death of the redoubtable Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody there is to be a by-election in the Cheshire constituency of Crewe and Nantwich.

Cheshire roadsign
Which Party will trudge this path successfully?

If it was a very marginal constituency then the Conservatives would be expected to win.

If it was a safe Labour seat the Conservatives would be allowed to lose.

But although it has been held by Labour since the Second World War it is just winnable enough (Labour majority 7078) to really put the pressure on the Conservatives to snatch it.

The Westminster jungle is already saying that David Cameron needs to win this seat if the paint job on the Tory bandwagon is going to remain untarnished.

The reason for these apparently unfair expectations is that the Conservatives need to make big inroads in the north of England if they are going to form a government - they can no longer rely on old-fashioned Tory seats in Scotland.

Crewe and Nantwich on 22 May will be the test.

Conservative optimism after the local election results this week is running very hot. But it is optimism that is fighting cold hard political facts.

The Conservatives have not gained a by-election seat since 1982 - when David Cameron was an Eton schoolboy.

Crewe by-election preview

To win just a one-seat majority in the commons at the next general election the Conservatives need a 6.9% swing away from Labour.

That has only ever been done once since the war - and that was by Tony Blair in 1997 after enjoying a 20%-ish lead in the polls for nearly three years.

So Crewe and Nantwich is critical. It will mark the transfer for the Conservative revival from hope to the beginning of reality.

But to happen it means a Labour town in an industrial heartland will have to turn its back on memories of government under Mrs Thatcher.

NB I would like to thank Steve Roberts from Blue Mountain Activities for keeping me alive during filming this week.

The last time I did any rock climbing David Cameron was an Eton schoolboy

The Politics Show, with Jon Sopel on Sunday 04 May 2008 at 1200 BST on BBC One.

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