The Labour Party has won both of yesterday’s by-elections in the constituencies of Wellingborough and Kingswood with a comfortable majority, overturning two Conservative seats that had traditionally been viewed as relatively safe.

27-year-old Genevieve Kitchen overturned a Conservative majority of over 18,000 in the seat formerly held by Peter Bone, who was subject to a local recall petition after a disciplinary investigation in the House of Commons upheld allegations that he had committed bullying and sexual misconduct.

She secured 45.9% of the vote in a low turnout of 38%, defeating the Conservative candidate, Helen Harrison. This represents a 28.5% swing to Labour, which is the second-biggest in the party’s history and the largest since the Dudley West by-election was held in 1994 (29.2%). Her majority was 6,436.

The party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said the result showed the country was “crying out for change”. Ms Kitchen will become the third-youngest British MP. He also spoke confidently about his party’s prospects, adding: “When I took over as leader, people shook my hand and said ‘good luck, Keir’… you will never do this in a five-year Parliamentary term.”

Meanwhile, in Kingswood, where the turnout was similarly low at 37.1%, Labour’s candidate Damien Egan defeated the Conservative candidate, Sam Bromiley – a local Councillor and the leader of the Conservative Group on South Gloucestershire Council. Mr Egan had formerly been the Mayor of Lewisham – a role from which he resigned in order to contest the seat.

Its former Conservative MP, Chris Skidmore, had resigned in January in protest at the Government’s new proposals to issue further offshore oil and gas licences. The swing to Labour was 16% – overturning an 11,220 Conservative majority – with Mr Egan winning a majority of 2,501.

The results represent a further blow to Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who responded by saying that “mid-term by-elections are always difficult”, although there have been some comments in Westminster today that “mid-term” is not typically viewed as the definition of by-elections held during an election year.

Speaking to the BBC, he added: “A vote for anyone who isn’t the Conservative candidate – whether that’s Reform or anyone else – is just a vote to put Keir Starmer in power. That’s the actual choice during the General Election – between me and him, between the Conservatives and Labour.”

It is understood in Westminster that the mood at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, while the results were not unexpected, is rather glum. Polling magnate Sir John Curtice has also said that these results show the party is in “deep trouble”.

And Lord Gavin Barwell – once Chief of Staff for former Prime Minister Theresa May – has called the result in Wellingborough in particular “catastrophically bad” for the Conservative Party. As to the Kingswood result, he declared that it was “bad, but not that bad”.

However, despite yesterday’s results, a recent poll by Savanta has shown that Labour’s lead over the Conservatives has recently dropped to 12 points – its lowest since September 2022. Indeed, the low turnout is suspected in Westminster to be largely due to people who would normally vote Conservative simply staying at home.

The firm’s Political Research Director, Chris Hopkins, sounded a note of caution earlier this week, saying: “This poll still serves as useful a reminder as any that Labour’s lead – while consistently high for many months – is not infallible.”

He added: “Voters have not quite made up their mind about Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, and doubts could well be creeping back in.”

Reform UK also secured its best election results yet, splitting the Tory vote with a 13% share in Wellingborough and 10.4% in Kingswood. In an e-mail to the party’s supporters this morning, leader Richard Tice called it an “incredible night” with some “excellent results”, adding that he was looking ahead now to the upcoming by-election in Rochdale on 29 February.

The party will be fielding Simon Danczuk – the constituency’s former Labour MP until 2017 – as its candidate there. Mr Danczuk was suspended from Labour in 2015, after an investigation found that he had exchanged inappropriate messages with a 17-year-old girl.

As Parliament has been in recess since 9 February, the two new MPs will not take up their seats until Monday.

Patrick Timms
Patrick is a freelance translator and political journalist who makes regular media appearances, with a background in educational IT. In 2019, he stood as a Conservative Councillor candidate in Crewe West.


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