Throughout December, political parties within the Westminster bubble are going to be tested in several ways – not just by sleaze, standards, and questions over secret Christmas parties, but with two by-elections, taking place in North Shropshire and Old Bexley and Sidcup.
The first of these tests is the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election taking place today following the death of James Brokenshire MP from lung cancer in October.
The seat has historically been safely Conservative, having been held by former Prime Minister Sir Ted Heath, and is one which Labour has been unsuccessful in regaining control of in any of its iterations since 1945. With a Conservative majority of 18,952 in the 2019 General Election, it begs the question as to why people are viewing this as a contest at all.
Well, any election nerds like myself will be well aware that the parliamentary by-elections that have taken place in 2021 have resulted in a number of surprises. Hartlepool turned blue for the first time since 1959 against the backdrop of Brexit, while Chesham and Amersham resulted in a huge loss for the Conservative Party despite holding the seat since its inception, with the seat going to the Liberal Democrats.
Both of these dramatic election results occurred well before the current attention on MPs’ standards and the increasing number of stories about sleaze. This, combined with the ongoing pandemic and the dwindling patience of the public with hearing stories of alleged rule-breaking by the rule-makers, has resulted in a changed environment for the incumbent party for Old Bexley and Sidcup.
These events may lead to a ‘December of discontent’ for Conservative voters heading to the polls. Many media vox pops in Old Bexley and Sidcup indicating a change in the electorate’s mood, particularly amongst life-long party voters, to one of apathy, which could lead to wider vote-switching.
Whoever wins, it is likely that the new MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup will have good knowledge of the area, with both main party candidates serving as local councillors. Councillor Daniel Francis is the former leader of the Labour group, while Councillor Louie French – the Conservative candidate – is the former deputy leader of Bexley council.
With many of these negative stories only emerging part way through this by-election campaign, it is likely that the impact of the hit in popularity the government has taken may not be all that significant, especially as postal votes had already landed on doorsteps. While it is unlikely for Old Bexley and Sidcup to change hands, given the results of recent by-elections and ones of old, we could be in for another surprise in North Shropshire next week.