21 JULY 2023 | NEWS

In the three by-elections held yesterday, the governing Conservative Party has lost the seat of Selby and Ainsty to the Labour Party (candidate Keir Mather), and Somerton and Frome to the Liberal Democrats (candidate Sarah Dyke).

The by-elections have returned one Conservative, one Labour and one Liberal Democrat MP to the House.

However, the Tories have held onto former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip by a narrow margin, with the election of candidate Steve Tuckwell by fewer than 500 votes. The seat had been vacated when Mr Johnson resigned with immediate effect, following receipt of a report into his conduct by the Privileges Committee.

The Chair of the Constituency Labour Party in that seat, David Williams, has resigned following the by-election result, saying that the move had been “planned weeks ago”, but had been delayed until the result was announced so as not to detract from the local campaign.

Laurence Fox, the candidate for the Reclaim Party, lost his deposit there after securing only around 2% of the vote. Candidates must secure at least 5% of the vote for their £500 deposit to be returned.

The Conservative hold in that constituency is believed in Westminster to be attributed to strong local opposition to London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s policy of extending the Ultra-Low-Emission Zone (ULEZ) to all London boroughs from the end of August.

In a historic by-election victory, Labour overturned a Tory majority of around 20,000 in Selby and Ainsty, with party leader Sir Keir Starmer branding it proof that his party “can win anywhere”. In response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the next General Election was still “not a done deal”.

The Labour candidate, Keir Mather, has become the youngest presently sitting MP in the House of Commons, aged 25. He grew up near Selby and was previously a parliamentary researcher for Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North and the current Shadow Health Secretary. More latterly, he worked as a public affairs adviser for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). His majority in the constituency is now just over 4,000.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey hailed the 28.4% swing to his party in Somerton and Frome, which also involved overturning a Tory majority of around 19,000. He added that the victory demonstrated that voters were uniting to drive the Conservative Party out of government after 13 years.

The victorious Ms Dyke said: “Instead of an absent Conservative MP letting you down, you have an active Liberal Democrat MP lifting you up. So to the mother in Milborne Port who told me how she couldn’t get a dentist appointment for her children, I hear you, and I will fight for you.

“To the man who told me how his elderly mother sat on the floor for thirteen hours waiting for an ambulance to arrive, I hear you, and I will fight for you. To the amazing farmers of Somerset, the custodians of our countryside: you are my family. I hear you, and I will fight for you.

“And to all of you seeing your energy bills, mortgage payments and food shop go up and up, with no end in sight, I hear you, and I will fight for you. To everyone here in Somerton and Frome, no matter how you voted in this election, I hear you, and I will fight for you.”

However, the Lib Dem hold on this seat remains tenuous, as it will be split into two separate constituencies at the time of the next General Election. This follows the most recent boundary review, in which changes to constituency boundaries will be made around the country.

The noted psephelogist Professor John Curtice has said that, despite the narrow win in the former PM’s seat, the by-election outcomes from Thursday demonstrate that national polling is also being reflected in local results. He noted that the Tory vote had dropped by around 21%, leaving the party 18% behind Labour nationally.

The by-elections were held on the day that the Commons rose for its summer recess, so it will be several weeks before their fallout will be discussed in the House. The new MPs will be sworn in and give their maiden speeches thereafter.

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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