A Tale of Two Constituencies

By Matilda Hartwig

There are two by-elections taking place today in two very different constituencies – Tiverton & Honiton in Devon and Wakefield in Yorkshire – which are set to stress-test Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Edward Davey’s leadership.

These elections will show whether national issues such as Partygate and the cost-of-living crisis, along with the personal scandals plaguing the outgoing Conservative MPs in both electorates, are encouraging action at the ballot box. The result of which will be determined by the effectiveness of the Labour and Liberal Democrats’ campaigns.

Tiverton & Honiton

Tiverton & Honiton has been controlled by the Conservative Party since the 1920s, even maintaining its stronghold through the merger of the two constituencies. The last General Election saw the Conservatives win with a majority of 24,239 votes. So, any swing big enough to shift control would be a major upset.

Polling predicts that the Liberal Democrats will make considerable gains on the Conservatives here, and a win would add to the other two seats – Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire – that they have taken from the Conservatives in the last 12 month.

Any further losses to the Liberal Democrats will be a major setback for the government and will likely make Conservative MPs in similar southern seats nervous in the lead up to the next General Election. A hold would give them hope that not all is lost. It may also show that constituents have moved on from Partygate and want consistent leadership during a time of continued economic uncertainty.

Wakefield

Until recently, Wakefield was a Labour stronghold. For the first time since 1932, the Party lost control at the 2019 General Election, with the Conservatives overturning its 2,176-majority on the back of its “Get Brexit done” campaign – making it a classic ‘Red Wall’ seat.

By-elections in Red Wall seats have proven difficult for Keir Starmer to date. The loss of Hartlepool in 2021 was a sign that his leadership had not yet won voters back round in 2021.

Wakefield, by contrast, ought to be an open goal for Labour – it only needs a 4.2% swing and has a golden combination of scandal around the seat’s former MP and a challenging national climate for the Government.

This is borne out by pre-election polling, which shows Labour is expected to retake Wakefield. The size of the swing will be critical in measuring how much cut-through the party has had in this area and how effective it has been at winning political points at a national level. Any loss is likely to lead to serious questions for Sir Keir Starmer.

Over the next 24 hours, all parties will be eagerly awaiting the result of both elections … stay tuned.