It wasn’t just an ordinary Thursday this week in the world of politics but a very special Thursday. Why, I hear you ask. Because 2 by-elections took place.
The first one was due to the tragic murder of Labour’s Jo Cox. As a mark of respect most major parties chose not to run against Labour, who chose Tracey Brabin as their candidate. 9 candidates from smaller parties, however, did run against Brabin. They were mostly from
racist far-right parties and none reached the required 5% of the vote that enabled them to gain their £500 deposits back.
The other was in Witney, and due to David Cameron’s resignation as an MP following the Brexit vote in June. In 2015, the then Prime Minister and Tory leader won 26,000 more votes than his nearest rival: Labour’s Duncan Enright. On Thursday, Conservative’s Robert Courts won by just 6,000.
As well as that surprise, there was another. Whereas a year ago Labour received 5,000 more votes than the Lib Dems, yesterday Tim Farron’s party beat Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour by a huge 6,000 votes. Unsurprisingly, Farron used the impressive result as an opportunity to declare that his Lib Dems are now ‘back in the political big-time’.
But what about the Tories? Surely it’s a bit concerning for them to have lost 20,000 votes? It’s an especially strange result given that the latest national polls have put them 18% ahead of Labour. However, I don’t think that they should be too concerned. There’s always going to be fewer people voting for a candidate that not many people know compared to the outgoing Prime Minister. Also, turnout was an abysmal 47% compared to 73% at the last general election – the majority of those who didn’t bother to vote were probably Tory voters who assumed that it would be a safe Conservative hold. This was a reasonable assumption to make as Witney has always been under Conservative control.
But the main thing to consider, something that will reassure the Conservatives, is a statement mooted by Home Office minister Brandon Lewis. He mentioned that when Cameron first stood, then an unknown candidate, he received 45% of the vote: the same amount that Courts won yesterday.
As for the Lib Dems, while the vote is a positive sign for the party, it doesn’t signal the ‘return to three-party politics’ that Farron’s been talking about. Witney is not representative of the whole country and the latest national poll from Ipsos Mori still put them on just 7% of the vote. The main reason for their beating Labour is probably due to the fact that those who didn’t want to vote Conservative saw them as the next best option. Labour has always done very poorly in Witney and was beaten by the Lib Dems in 2001, 2005 and 2010. Last year was the anomaly.
To conclude, I don’t think that too many lessons can be drawn from Witney. It only indicated what we all thought we knew already: Labour is struggling, the Lib Dems are attempting to fight back and UKIP is not looking good at all (they were beaten to 4th place by the Greens). Things should get more interesting once Theresa May’s honeymoon period as PM starts to wear off…