Page last updated at 14:13 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 15:13 UK

Five key lessons from Norwich North

By James Landale
Chief Political Correspondent, BBC News

Forget the spin, the absurd attempts to raise or dampen expectations, the excuses and the explanations.

Chloe Smith and David Cameron
The Tories caught the mood of voters at this by-election

The importance of the Norwich North by-election is not what happened, but paradoxically, what did not happen.

Let me explain.

First, the Tories did not fail.

At a time in the political cycle when they should be winning by-elections, they won.

And they won with some gusto - a swing of 16.5% and a majority of more than 7,000.

Norwich North is only 162 on the Tories' target list, but it is the kind of marginal swing seat the Tories must gain by the busload if they are to win the next general election with a handsome majority. Project Cameron did not stall.

Anti-politics mood

Second, the Labour vote did not shift substantially to the Tories.

Some drifted to the minority parties but most stayed at home.

Norwich North by-election
The Tories were the clear winners in Norwich North

Some 14,800 people who voted Labour in 2005 did not vote on Thursday. There was no Crewe and Nantwich-style flood of Labour voters to the Tories.

In fact, some 2000 fewer people voted Tory than in 2005. There was no single issue that galvanised voters and brought them out into the polling booths.

Third, the anti-politics, anti-politician, expenses-fuelled vote did not coalesce around any particular party or candidate.

The Greens, UKIP and the former diplomat Craig Murray picked up some expenses-driven protest votes but not enough to matter.

The Lib Dems in particular did poorly in this regard.

All parties will look at this with interest as they plan for the general election.

No leadership challenge

The Tories reckon their candidate's "contract" with the voters, promising transparency and honesty, particularly over expenses, paid dividends.

Certainly the other parties here on the ground do not appear to disagree that the Tories played the anti-politician mood better than most.

Fourth, Labour's strategy of attacking putative Tory spending cuts did not appear to fly - and the party pulled back on this in the later stages of the campaign. The Tories believed voters were not in the mood for a robust campaign based on criticising opponents.

Fifth, Labour's defeat does not - as of now - appear to be prompting a further challenge to Gordon Brown's leadership.

That could change over the summer but for now many Labour MPs and ministers are exhausted, desperate for a holiday and in no mood for a fresh bout of infighting. Most appear to have written off Norwich North a long time ago.

The result will not surprise them.

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