Can the Conservatives hold on to Wellingborough or will Labour continue its recent momentum?
By-elections have long been a part of the political process in the UK, but in recent months it has felt like they’re happening all the time. Since he became Prime Minister just over a year ago, Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have contested nine and won just one – a heavily ULEZ-affected campaign in Boris Johnson’s former seat.
Next up, in by-election number ten, the Conservatives will look to defend the seat of Wellingborough, where incumbent Peter Bone was removed by a recall petition. While the vote (which was today scheduled for Thursday 15 February) may be lost to nearest challengers Labour, victory for Keir Starmer’s opposition would serve as yet another indicator of just how likely they are to sweep to power in the second half of the year.
Of those nine previous by-elections, it’s October’s vote in Tamworth which shares the most similarities with this one. A Tory incumbent, suspended for sexual misconduct, in a Brexit-voting, relatively deprived safe middle England seat.
The latest polling nationally suggest that issues like Brexit have been replaced with concerns about the cost of living and the state of the National Health Service – factors felt as keenly as anywhere in places like Wellingborough. And while immigration remains a hot topic locally, it’s likely that Nigel Farage’s Reform UK will make this a central part of their campaign to woo erstwhile Tory voters.
This seat is not one that Labour necessarily needs to win to secure a majority in this year’s election, however taking control of it here could be an indicator of how large that majority might end up being. Not least because it hasn’t gone red since the highs of Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street.
If we see a repeat of the October’s Tamworth result– an (albeit narrow) Labour victory -it will only serve to add to the growing sense that this year’s General Election will see a Labour majority for the first time since 2005. It might also be the catalyst for a few more by-elections triggered by Conservatives looking for a way out.
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