The Conservative Party has lost two parliamentary by-elections, with the Labor Party winning Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats winning Tiverton and Honiton.
The results mark a double hit for the party as voters in both its red wall in Yorkshire and its blue wall in Devon leave the party.
In Wakefield, the Labor Party ended up losing a seat in 2019, having previously been in place since the 1930s. Labor candidate Simon Lightwood reversed the Conservative majority of 3,358 to take the seat with his majority of 4,925. The turnout was comparatively low at 39.1%.
The by-election in Wakefield follows the resignation of former Conservative MP, Imran Ahmed Khan, who was jailed in May for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. The result, which was reflected on a 12.9% swing for Labor, was largely to be expected.
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It is the first time Labor has won a by-election in a decade. The last time the party actually won such a seat from a political rival was in 2012 in Corby.
A more worrying result for the Conservatives is the loss of their last secure seat in Tiverton and Honiton. The result here was absolutely massive, with a swing of 30% against the party, and a high turnout of 52.3%.
In this part of Devon, the Conservatives were defending a majority of 24,000 from the 2019 general election, but Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Ford won the seat with a majority of 6,144. The by-election follows the resignation of former Conservative MP, Neil Parish, after he was discovered to have viewed pornography in the Commons Chamber.
Lib Dem’s victories in Tiverton and Honiton gave the party the reversal of the largest majority ever held in any UK by-election and with relative ease. After similar victories for Lib Dems in the safe seats of Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire over the past 12 months, the result will undoubtedly raise the pulses of Conservative MPs across the Blue Wall in southern England. Both the previous defeats happened before the recent ‘Partygate’ controversy.
Commenting on his party’s respective victory, Labor leader Keir Starmer said, “Wakefield has shown that the country has lost faith in the Tories”, adding, “This result is a clear decision on a Conservative Party that is not sure of energy and Has run out of ideas”.
Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey, said: “The Liberal Democrats made political history with this stunning victory. It’s the biggest by-election victory our nation has ever won.”
Boris Johnson, who is currently attending a Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Rwanda, told reporters yesterday that it was ‘crazy’ that he could step down if the Conservatives lost both by-elections, the vice-president. Elections were ‘never easy for any government’.
In a sense the Prime Minister’s statement is correct.
Several by-elections that have been lost by a governing party have been retaken because the same party has won a subsequent general election. These include Eastbourne for the Conservatives in 1990, Birmingham Hodge Hill and Glasgow East for Labor in 2004 and 2008, and Rochester and Stroud and Richmond Park for the Conservatives in 2014 and 2016.
In the next general election, the Liberal Democrats, who specialize in by-election victories, will also lack the political manpower to be able to run a similar campaign in a wider range of seats.
Nonetheless, with the prime minister giving much consideration to the license after the expected ‘no-confidence’ vote victory from his MPs earlier in June, the by-election results represent another threat to his inherent authority.
The relative size of the two signals, smaller in Wakefield’s traditionally more working-class Red Wall seat, and larger in Tiverton and Honiton’s more middle-class Blue Wall seat, confirms something interesting in the underlying opinion polls.
Polling firm YouGov has shown that Conservatives are registering only 25% support among middle-class voters (social groups A/B/C1). This is below the level of 36 per cent that the party is voting among working class voters (in C2/D/E social groups).