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Triple By-election Bonanza proves disastrous for both Sunak and Starmer

Conservatives lose two by-elections; Labour fails to win Johnson’s former seat; Lib Dems win big in Southwest England

By Cameron Greer

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

DISASTER struck in the early hours of Friday morning for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but also unexpectedly for Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer. The triple by-election fixture saw a victory each for the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

Triggered by the resignation of Boris Johnson and two of his allies, the by-elections in Somerton and Frome, Selby and Ainsty and Uxbridge & South Ruislip were always going to be a test of how Conservative Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, was doing in his role; but it was Keir Starmer who ended up failing his test.

While Labour was able to defeat the Conservatives in Selby and Ainsty, overturning a 20,000 majority, they failed to take down the Conservatives in Uxbridge & South Ruislip - the disgraced former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s, seat.

Their failure to win this seat, which in theory should have been an easy win, shows multiple things and has multiple causes. The main causes are the national attitude towards the Conservatives and Labour and the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).

First, it’s obvious that the national opinion of the Conservatives has turned sour. Their polling is in the dumps, the government has run out of legislative ambition and over 40 MPs are standing down at the next election. People are unsurprisingly turning to Labour, who, through the current voting system, are the natural alternative - however they might not be doing as well as expected.

Keir Starmer’s strategy of taking Labour back to the centre and adopting some Tory policies to win over Conservative voters has proven extremely unpopular with Labour members, progressive voters and others, and the party’s several U-turns isn’t helping.

The most unpopular move so far has been to pledge to keep the two-child benefit cap, which has pushed tens of thousands of children into poverty. Not only is this strategy alienating their traditional voter base, it also makes the party seem untrustworthy and lacking in principles.

The second cause is the ULEZ, which is a solely local issue. London Labour introduced the ULEZ, which is unpopular with drivers but popular with environmentalists. The Tory campaign capitalised heavily on this issue, to the detriment of Labour.

Another worry for Labour is the success of the Liberal Democrats in England. They managed to win the by-election in Somerton and Frome, overturning a majority of 19,000 and establishing an 11,000 majority. The worrying thing for Labour in this is that they came in at a measly 2.6%, behind Reform UK and the Greens.

This may show voters that the Lib Dems prove to be a stronger competitor to the Conservatives than Labour in rural southern seats. The Lib Dems produced a swing towards them from the Conservatives bigger than the overall Conservative vote share, while Labour couldn’t even win the seat of a deeply unpopular former Tory MP with a majority of 7,000.

The real test of this Labour vs Lib Dem theory will be in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election. Labour came in second in 2019, but it’s the type of seat where the Lib Dems can thrive, much like North Shropshire. However, Labour is unlikely to stand aside for the Lib Dems this time around.

Another test for Labour will be the potential Rutherglen and Hamilton West. This will be a test for how Labour can perform in their old heartlands in Scotland’s Central Belt and take votes away from the SNP. Will Labour be able to take hold, or will they fumble it like they did in Uxbridge?


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