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Voters head to polls in latest by-election test for Conservatives and Labour

Election Ballot Box
By Joe Cooper
20 July 2023
Public Affairs

After much anticipation, voters head to the polls today as the government faces its latest electoral test with three crucial by-elections in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome.  

With all three seats held by the Conservatives, the party is left in the unenviable position of having it all to lose and little to gain and facing the very real prospect of becoming the first government to lose three seats in one day for the first time since 1968.  

While onlookers both within and outside the party are expecting three losses for the Conservatives, the interesting dynamic is that each of these seats represents a different electoral challenge facing the government at the next election.  

A resurgent Labour winning back territory in the North (though Selby and Ainsty isn’t exactly the typical ‘Red Wall’ seat lost in 2019); the continued strengthening of Labour’s hold on London and the surrounding areas; and a resurgent Liberal Democrat vote in the South West: these are all reflective of the broad electoral coalitions needed to win the next election.  

It is understandably the seat of the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which has garnered the most attention. To capture the constituency would represent a powerful symbolic victory in Labour’s potential path to government.  

Though the party have been keen to manage expectations in the past few weeks, particularly with the Mayor of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) proving unpopular in the area, the seat has long been a target of Labour’s and one the party is expected to win. Defending a majority just north of 7,000, a swing of 7.6 per cent would see the seat turn red for the first time in its thirteen-year history.  

Further afield, the Conservatives will also be looking to fend off a resurgent Liberal Democrat presence in the South West in Somerton and Froome. With the resignation of David Warburton following allegations of misconduct, the Liberal Democrats look set to overturn an almost 20,000 majority as they look to make further inroads into the ‘Blue Wall’ of Conservative heartland seats across the South and South West.  

Of the three, Selby and Ainsty perhaps provides the real acid test for the Conservatives and Labour. The leafy constituency in North Yorkshire, not too far from the Prime Minister’s own patch in Richmond, re-elected Nigel Adams with a majority of over 20,000 just four years ago. Now, with Adams’ resignation, the seat is a genuine target for Labour and would-be MP, the 25-year-old Keir Mather. Taking the seat would require a swing beyond national polls but would provide a significant indication that the party not only threatens the Conservatives in metropolitan areas but in rural areas too.  

Parliament rising for the summer recess should provide some welcomed respite for the government, who will be hoping that the six-week break gives Ministers the time to recharge and regroup ahead of the busy party conference season.