What happened in this week’s by-elections?

This week’s by-elections in Kingswood and Wellingborough have delivered blows to the Conservative Party, with Labour securing victories in both constituencies. The outcomes mark the end of another tumultuous week in British politics as voters went to the polls to fill the vacancies left by former Conservative MPs Chris Skidmore and Peter Bone. Here Brevia offers a closer look at the events leading up to the by-elections and their potential implications for the upcoming General Election.

Background

The Kingswood by-election was triggered by the resignation of Chris Skidmore, a former Tory minister, who left in protest of the Government’s policy of issuing new oil and gas licenses for drilling in the North Sea. In Wellingborough, voters cast their ballots after Peter Bone faced allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct, leading to a successful recall petition against him.[1]

Expectations and Results

The Conservative Party aimed to retain both seats, given their substantial majorities in the last general election. However, Labour emerged victorious in both Kingswood and Wellingborough, dealing a significant blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives, who have now lost seats in 10 by-elections during this Parliament.[2]

In Kingswood, Labour’s Damien Egan secured an impressive victory, overturning a Conservative majority of 11,220 with a 16.4 per cent swing in favour of Labour. In Wellingborough, Gen Kitchen of Labour achieved an even more substantial swing of 28.5 per cent, winning with a comfortable majority of 6,436. Turnout was relatively low, with 37 per cent in Kingswood and 38 per cent in Wellingborough.[3]

Reform UK

Notably, the right-wing party Reform UK emerged as a significant player, securing over 10 per cent of the vote in both by-elections. Reform UK Leader Richard Tice emphasised the party’s growing influence, posing a potential threat to the Conservatives in the upcoming General Election.[4]

Political Reactions

Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer celebrated the victories. He stated that these results showed ‘people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed Labour Party to deliver it’. He further added that ‘Labour is back in the service of working people and we will work tirelessly to deliver for them’.[5]

On the other hand, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged the need for the Conservatives to communicate their priorities to the electorate better. He stated, ‘We look at the results, very low turnout, [it] shows that we’ve got work to do, to show people that we are delivering on their priorities, and that’s what I’m absolutely determined to do’.[6]

Implications for the General Election

While these by-election results were not entirely unexpected, they underscore the challenges faced by the Conservative Party, with Labour making gains and Reform UK gaining momentum, the Tories are being attacked from all sides. The historical context of similar losses leading to a larger defeat in past general elections, particularly concerning the 1997 election, also raises concerns about the Conservative Party’s prospects.[7]

Overall, as the dust settles from the recent by-elections in Kingswood and Wellingborough, the outcomes have painted a nuanced political landscape. The Labour victories and Reform UK’s success add layers of complexity. However, it’s crucial to note that by-election results don’t necessarily mirror General Election outcomes due to significantly lower voter turnout, making any predictions less certain. Nevertheless, Kier Starmer can find some solace and a moment of relaxation after navigating a challenging week.

 

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[1] The Guardian, Kingswood byelection: Labour overturns big Tory majority to win, February 2024, Link

[2] The BBC, Kingswood by-election: Labour’s Damien Egan overturns large Tory majority, February 2024, Link

[3] The BBC, Kingswood by-election: Labour’s Damien Egan overturns large Tory majority, February 2024, Link

[4] Politics.co.uk, Richard Tice hails ‘defining moment’ for Reform UK after best-ever by-election results, February 2024, Link

[5]  The Guardian, Starmer says ‘fantastic’ byelection wins show Labour is trusted to deliver change, February 2024, Link

[6] The Guardian, Starmer says ‘fantastic’ byelection wins show Labour is trusted to deliver change, February 2024, Link

[7] BBC News, John Curtice: By-election results leave Tories with mountain to climb, February 2024, Link

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