One night of by-elections – The collapse of two different Conservative walls

The Conservative Party lost two parliamentary By-Elections, with the Labour Party winning Wakefield, and the Liberal Democrats winning Tiverton and Honiton.

The party’s results are a double hit as voters from both its Red Wall in Yorkshire (and its Blue Wall in Devon) leave the party.

The Labour Party won a seat in Wakefield that it lost in 2019. It had previously held it since the 1930s.  Simon Lightwood, a Labour party candidate, won the seat with a majority of 4,925. He overtook a Conservative majority of 3,358, which was held by Simon Lightwood.  The turnout was only 39.1%.

The by-election in Wakefield had been caused following the resignation of the former Conservative MP, Imran  Ahmad Khan, who was jailed in May for sexually assaulting a 15 year old boy in 2008.    The result, which showed a 12.9% swing towards Labour, was widely expected.


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It is the first time Labour gained a byelection gain in over 10 years.  Corby was the last time that Labour gained a seat from a political rival in 2012.

The Conservatives losing its seat in Tiverton/Honiton is the more alarming result. This result was much more dramatic, with a 30% swing against the party and a 52.3% turnout.

This part of Devon was where the Conservatives had been defending a majority of 24,000 in the 2019 General Election. But Richard Foord (Liberal Democrat candidate) won the seat with a majority number of 6,144.  After Neil Parish, a former Conservative MP, was found watching pornography at the Commons chamber, he resigned.

The party won in Tiverton and Honiton, achieving the largest ever UK majority and relatively easy victory. The result, which follows similar victories for Lib Dems in the safe seats of Chesham, Amersham and North Shropshire over the past 12 months, will no doubt increase the pulses of Conservative MPs in the Blue Wall of southern England.  Both the previous defeats had occurred before the recent ‘partygate’ controversy.

Commenting on their party’s respective wins, the Labour leader Keir Starmer said, “Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tories”, adding, “This result is a clear judgement on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas”.

Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey said, “The Liberal Democrats have made political history with this stunning win.  It is the biggest by-election victory our country has ever seen”.

Boris Johnson, who is currently attending a Commonwealth leaders summit in Rwanda, yesterday told reporters that it was ‘crazy’ that he might quit if the Conservatives lost both by-elections, adding by-elections were ‘never necessarily easy for any government’.

In one sense, the prime minister’s statement is correct.

There have been many by-elections that were lost by a ruling party. These by-elections have been retaken when the same party wins the next general election.  These include Eastbourne in 1990 for the Conservatives, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Glasgow East for Labour 2004 and 2008, Rochester and Stroud, and Richmond Park for Conservatives 2014 and 2016.

Liberal Democrats, who are experts at by-election wins, will also be lacking the political manpower necessary to mount comparable campaigns across a wide variety of seats when the next general elections come around.

Nonetheless with the prime minister considered very much on licence following his narrower than expected ‘no confidence’ vote victory from his MPs earlier in June, the by-election results represent a further threat to his underlying authority.

The relative size and importance of the defeats in Wakefield’s Red Wall, which is more for the working class, and the Blue Wall, which is for the middle class, of Tiverton, Honiton, and Honiton, highlights something interesting in the underlying polls. The polling firm YouGov has shown that the Conservatives only poll 25% of middle-class voters (social groups A/B/C1).   This is lower than the 36% level that the party is polling amongst the working class voters (those who belong to C2/D/E social categories).