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Labour Victorious or Tory Exhaustion?

Labour has won another two by-elections in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire. Having previously been considered Tory strongholds, they fell to Labour in historic swings. Tamworth, held by the Conservatives in 2019 with a whopping majority of 42%, experienced the second-largest post-war vote swing from Conservative to Labour. Keir Starmer has said that this victory shows his Labour Party is capable of winning seats they've never won before. However, the glaring question is whether Labour's victory is a product of changing popular sentiment or proof of an exhausted Conservative Party — both with voters and within its own ranks.

Let's first explore the element of local disillusionment and voter exhaustion. Disgraced Tories formerly held both Mid-Bedfordshire and Tamworth. First, Nadine Dorries (the embodiment of delusion and Tory ineptitude), who spent months at a time not speaking in Parliament, resigned, then un-resigned, and then resigned again. Second, Chris Pincher (who was suspended from Parliament for allegedly groping male colleagues), whose appointment as Chief Whip played a key role in the end of Boris Johnson's premiership. What a pair, huh?

With former MPs like these, there is a clear argument that public disillusionment cost the Tories these formerly safe seats. To further illustrate the deep-seated dissatisfaction, in Bedfordshire, locals held a "get-the-Tories-out" vote concurrent with the main ballot. Interestingly enough, local disillusionment and voter turnout has become the line of choice for Tories seeking to downplay the Labour victory. This apathy from one's core voter base is very reminiscent of Gordon Brown's Labour Party back in 2010, where after thirteen years in government, traditional Labour voters and the wider public had become exhausted with the Labour Party. Not very promising for a wider General Election, is it Rishi?

Moving swiftly on to the question of a disunited right and protest votes being the key to Labour's victory. It makes for a change to talk about right-wing disunity from the perspective of a leftist.

In recent months, we have seen a trend toward support for the far-right in the form of Reform UK, once again revealing the UK's far-right politics in the breakdown of by-election results. Reform won 1,373 votes (5.4 per cent) in Tamworth and 1,487 (3.7 per cent) in Mid Bedfordshire; whilst these are not vast swathes of the vote, it split the vote between Tory and Reform. This vote splitting has led to senior Tories begging Reform not to in the words of their vice-chairperson Lee Anderson, "punish the country", who then accused Reform of "working for a Labour government". It's not like the Tories to pass off blame for their failures, is it?

On the part of Reform, its leader, Richard Tice, has blatantly ruled out an electoral pact with the Tories for the next election, sparking fresh fears from within an already exhausted and embattled party that a split right will cost the Tories the next election wholesale. In addition to Reform UK splitting the right-wing vote, the Liberal Democrats can also be seen to have contributed to Labour's victory. The party itself has claimed this to be the case, stating that, by collecting protest votes in traditionally blue villages, they allowed for Labour's clean sweep victory in both constituencies.

Clearly, the Tories face a big problem, from a kind of "pincer movement" on their vote share, losing votes on the left to Labour and the Lib Dems, whilst also losing votes on the right to Reform. (Not that I'm complaining if the right wants to tear itself apart!)

Let's look now at the flip side, that of Labour's fresh appeal. Since taking power over the ruins of the party left by Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer has fought an uphill battle to reform the party's image. A battle which - for all intents and purposes - he has won. I have previously written here about how Starmer can be counted as a PM in waiting, but we must take a broader look since we don't directly vote for our PM, as in Presidential systems. The new 'New' Labour Party has taken steps to identify itself as the party of 'national renewal', offering alternatives to failed Tory policies. Under Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, Labour is showing that it is now the party of fiscal responsibility (ironically here being able to use the Tories' favourite attack lines on the economy against them). Whilst not the sole deciding factor in the Tamworth or Mid Bedfordshire by-elections, in the context of a general election, it is vital to consider renewed competency within the Labour ranks as an active driver of their increasing vote share.

So, was Labour's victory in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire a product of their appeal, or was it a product of voter exhaustion and a split in the right-wing vote? Ultimately, it's a mix of both factors, though I am leaning more towards the adverse conditions affecting the Tories nationwide.

Whilst as a leftist, it pains me to write that, in the constituencies in question that have consistently had a Tory MP, it's improbable that the appeal of Starmer's new 'New' Labour would break this voting habit. Instead, voter exhaustion and high dissatisfaction with the Tories have led to protest votes favouring Reform, the Lib Dems and voter swings to Labour. That being said, it's an important indicator for a General Election. Hopefully, the scenes of Tory petulance displayed by their failed candidates will be repeated on a grander scale in the coming year.

Image: Sky News

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