Boris Johnson faces popularity test in by-elections
In February 1957, during my first year of school and working for a living at the age of 17, I learned of the existence of a British term ‘mini general election’, which means three by-elections for seats in the House of Commons held on the same day. . The constituencies in question were Carmarthen in Wales, Lewisham North in South East London and Wednesbury in the Midlands. It didn’t take long for me to know that the term had caught on in Australia, as my last article indicates “Will Gladys Berejiklian Challenge Federal Seat of Warringah?” “.
At the time of writing, there is still no further word on the date of the New South Wales state by-election, or even whether there will be five. The most speculated date is December 4, the same as the NSW local election, but none of the five members have resigned yet. So all I can do is assume that there will be by-elections in the New South Wales states in Bega, Holsworthy, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby. Australia has become so Americanized that I guess the media will use the term “Super Saturday by-elections”, but I prefer the British term “mini general election”.
Anyway, I continue to follow UK by-elections which sometimes give a good indication of the electoral ranking of parties in the House of Commons. Readers may therefore be interested in my summary of the situation under Boris Johnson‘s first term as Prime Minister-elect. So far, two by-elections have taken place, both registering poor results for Labor – but the results have not been as good for the Tories as the media have described it.
The seat now known as ‘Hartlepool’ was once known as ‘The Hartlepools’ and is a coastal town in Durham, the county in north-eastern England in which the Labor Party has retreated furthest. during the general elections of December 2019. During the referendum on Brexit of June 2016, his electorate voted overwhelmingly in favor of leaving the European Union. Held by Labor since World War II (with his 1959-64 Tory tenure the only exception), he was held up by his Labor member Mike Hill in 2019 in a split ‘Tory’ vote, getting him just 37.7 % voices. The Tory candidate got 11,869 votes, the Brexit candidate 10,603 – and Hill came in the middle with 15,464 votes. This often happens in the context of first-party voting and the counting of votes. Then, in March 2021, Hill resigned under a cloud. Not surprisingly, Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer won the seat in the May by-election, an event noticed by media around the world.
It’s hard to imagine two more different English constituencies than Hartlepool and the next having a by-election, Chesham and Amersham, in the predominantly rural south of Buckinghamshire on the outskirts of Greater London. The constituency of Chesham and Amersham is characterized by high incomes and high levels of self-employment, but this is the kind of seat where Labor does poorly and the Lib Democrats come in second behind the Tory members.
In the 2019 general election, sitting Conservative member Dame Cheryl Gillan won 30,850 votes, Dan Gallagher of Liberal Democrats 14,627, Matt Turmaine of Labor 7,166 with 3,042 for Green candidate Alan Booth. Upon learning of Gillan’s death on April 4, 2021, my immediate reaction (based on many years of experience) was to predict that the Lib Dems would win the seat – and so it turned out in the by-election. June 17. Labor and Green votes collapsed as left-wing voters turned to candidate LD who won the seat. The only thing the by-election had in common with Hartlepool (aside from the fact that Labor is doing poorly either way) is that these two results tell us what so often happens in the first-party system and of the vote count.
On a date yet to be announced, there will be another “mini-general election,” two simultaneous by-elections in the counties bordering Greater London. The vacancies were caused by the death of Tory MPs, the normal death of James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup) on October 4 and the assassination by an Islamist terrorist stabbing Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West in the Essex. This appalling act happened on October 15 as Sir David met voters at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, east London.
These two constituencies usually return normal contests, with the Conservative candidate easily winning and Labor coming in second. For this reason, I only display the votes and percentages of the two candidates. Old Bexley and Sidcup are in an area now part of Greater London which was once in Kent. It is Bexley’s successor seat and was last won by Labor in 1946, but was recaptured for the Conservative Party in 1950 by the late Edward Heath, Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974. His Tory vote in 2019 was of 29,786 (73.33%), with Labor obtaining 10,834 (26.67%). So Labor needs a 23.4% swing to win this seat.
Southend West is a little more marginal. It has, however, been owned by Sir David Amess since 1997. Previously, it had won the very marginal seat next to Basildon in 1983, 1987 and 1992. Southend West has been Tory-owned since its inception in 1950. In the 2019 general election, the Tory vote was 27,555 (67.78%) and the Labor vote 13,096 (32.22%), so Labor needs a 17.8% swing to win.
A fair prediction would be for the Tory candidates to win both seats with reduced majorities, but the UK is now in an energy crisis largely blamed on Brexit. If Labor wins any of these by-elections, it would indicate understandable dissatisfaction with Boris Johnson’s current performance.