By-elections are never a good indicator of what will happen at a general election. The two in June, however, have got the Tory’s rattled and quite rightly. Wakefield is in the so-called red wall of former Labour seats while Tiverton and Honiton is at the opposite end of the country, both in geography and politics. At least it used to be.
Both have been lost, Wakefield to Labour and Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats in the biggest swing in any by-election ever.
As always though, the election has been followed by the usual guff from both politicians and the media who claim to understand what the electorate is saying. Let me say it again, the electorate has no opinion, only individuals do. There is no collusion despite claims to the contrary.
Attorney general Suella Braverman told the BBC: ‘It’s disappointing to see that there’s a dishonest electoral pact between the Lib Dems and Labour.’ Sour grapes indeed. If a pact existed then I cannot see how it is dishonest. As long as there is no coercion to make individuals vote, what people do in the polling booth is up to them.
Putting its honesty aside, did any pact make a difference? Taking Wakefield first, Labour’s share of the vote increased from 39.8% to 47.9%, while the Conservative share fell from 47.3% to 30.0%. The Liberal Democrat vote shrank from 3.9% to 1.8% and so even without any Liberal Democrat votes, Labour would still have won. The most interesting aspects of this result however were the collapse in the Reform party vote, which would be expected to help the Conservatives and the number of votes for independents, up from 2.9& to 16.3%. Here the ‘pact’ made no difference.
The situation with Tiverton and Honiton is more complicated. The Liberal Democrats went from third place on 14.8% to winning on 52.8% while the Conservative vote collapsed from 60.2% to 38.4%. Labour’s vote changed from 19.5% to 3.7%. On the face of it Labour votes may well have shifted to the Liberal Democrats and if Labour’s vote had held then the result may well have been different. This does not explain the greater reduction in the Conservative vote which was greater than any reduction in the Labour vote. Here the ‘pact’ may have made a difference but there is no certainty.
In truth we can not be certain about any effect of any ‘pact’ unless we canvas every voter to tell us how and why they voted the way they did. Even then they may not tell the truth.
What we can be certain of, however, is that the Conservatives lost, badly (at least for them).