We are at the fag-end of the current Parliament. It’s been a “long parliament”, with three prime ministers in four years and I have lost count of the number of housing ministers… (do we even bother to learn their names anymore?) This instability and constant change of direction has resulted in the situation where we now find ourselves with the lowest number of both new homes being built, and local plans being made, since the second world war. Truly a dire state of affairs.
May saw a truly shocking set of Council results, and then a few weeks later Boris resigned his seat and the next day, Nigel Adams resigned because his nomination for a peerage was refused. The third by-election in Somerton and Frome came about because its former MP, David Warburton, resigned after admitting taking cocaine (Thankfully for Rishi Sunak, Nadine Dorries also resigned but then promptly forgot to fill out the paperwork).
These by-elections are being seen as quite a significant test. Both Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome have Tory majorities of around 20k… a mountain to climb but we have seen majorities even bigger than this being overturned (next door Tiverton and Honiton and North Shropshire). The LibDems achieved those, but Labour has not had any significant by-election wins; they won Wakefield, but only after overturning a tiny tory majority. So, Labour desperately needs a few convincing wins to prove that Keir Starmer is indeed a Prime Minister in waiting, and Labour a government in waiting.
History also tells us that the last time a PM lost three by-elections on the same day was in 1968 under Harold Wilson (Acton, Dudley and Meriden). Only two years prior, Labour had a majority of 98 (18 bigger than Boris’ 2019 majority), but went on to lose power in 1970 to Ted Heath and the Tories.
By-election wins are basically a vitamin shot for political parties. It energises and revitalises the foot soldier party activists like me, and gives them that healthy winning glow for PR purposes. Take Somerton and Frome, the bookies have Lib Dems as a ‘dead cert’ because of what they achieved in neighbouring Tiverton and Honiton last year. But with Selby and Uxbridge, Labour are the favourites to win today but it’s not a ‘dead cert’. Labour really needs to pull this off or their chances of sneaking in a General Election win next year will start looking more like a Lib-Lab coalition in waiting.
There is also a second element here… the Labour talent pool was seriously depleted in 2019 and the Parliamentary Labour Party is in desperate need of some fresh blood. In Selby the Labour candidate is the appropriately named Keir Mathers, who comes from a Public Affairs background. In Uxbridge the candidate is Danny Beales, the lead cabinet member for social housing on Camden Council – now Danny is the sort of fresh blood who understands housing and development and if he is the housing minister one day, we all will have some hope of delivering the housing we desperately need.
But what about our PM? The Tories are despondent, and looking at the number of Tory MPs standing down it becomes very clear than many of them have already ‘lost’ in their minds. If, however, they manage to cling on to one of these seats, they will be getting a big boost and the prospect of complete annihilation may begin to appear as avoidable.
There is a lot to play for and the results are likely to shape the run-up to the next General Election.
Until next week!