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Labour takes the victory in Kingswood & in Wellingborough

Reflections

In a series of remarkable political upsets, the Labour Party has clinched significant victories in recent by-elections, signaling a potential shift in the UK’s political landscape. Labour’s Gen Kitchen’s triumph in Wellingborough and Damien Egan’s win in Kingswood not only underpin the party’s resurgence in areas previously dominated by the Conservatives but also highlight the evolving dynamics within British politics. These victories, achieved through localised campaigns and amidst controversies surrounding Conservative candidates, reflect changing voter sentiments and priorities. As we delve into the specifics of each election, we’ll explore the implications of these outcomes for the Labour Party, the Conservatives, and the broader electoral map as the country approaches crucial upcoming elections.

In Wellingborough…

Labour’s Gen Kitchen stormed to victory at the Wellingborough by-election, overturning a Conservative majority of 18,540 and becoming the first Labour MP to be elected in Northamptonshire since November 2012. The Conservatives suffered one of the highest falls in vote share since WW2.

Reform UK also campaigned hard and were at one point hoping to beat the Conservatives into third place. Tactical voting in favour of Labour saw other parties lose out on vote share, although prominent local Independent Marion Turner Hawes gained a respectable 1,115 votes off the back of her campaign to save a local avenue of trees threatened by new development.

Since 2005, Wellingborough has been a Conservative safe seat, held by the prominent Brexiteer Peter Bone until he was ousted at a recall petition last year following a report on his conduct. His partner Helen Harrison, currently a North Northamptonshire councillor and former Executive member, stood as the Conservative candidate.

Gen Kitchen ran a highly localised campaign, pledging to revitalise local town centres, repair roads and tackle knife crime. She has also promised to campaign for a new urgent care centre in the constituency. North Northamptonshire has had substantial population growth over the last decade with large volumes of new development being delivered across the area, so Labour have successfully capitalised on local concerns about infrastructure capacity and medical waiting lists. From a development perspective, her campaign website also refers to Labour’s pledge to deliver “1.5 million homes over a Parliament”. Local voters will now be looking for concrete action on these pledges to upgrade key infrastructure and whether it can keep pace with the further new homes proposed under a future Labour government.

Forthcoming boundary changes have removed a large number of Conservative-leaning, rural villages from the Wellingborough and Rushden constituency and have urbanised the seat. Gen Kitchen should therefore be confident of re-election at the general election later this year.

And in Kingswood…

The South Gloucestershire Conservative group leader spent most of the last few weeks accusing Labour of “hacking into the Green Belt”. He didn’t win the by-election.

Instead, the Kingswood boy did. Labour’s Damien Egan has trod the ‘go to London for a bit before coming home path’ with real gusto having spent time as mayor of Lewisham.

Now he’s back and the MP for Kingswood. Kingswood will be carved up in the general election, but Damien is also Labour’s candidate for the new Bristol North West constituency (where he beat Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees to win the selection). 

Whilst the result in Kingswood was good, it’s not as emphatic as in Wellingborough or in other recent by-elections. Votes for other parties are almost more interesting.

The most important question for May’s local elections in nearby Bristol will be who can win the most seats out of the Greens and Labour. A similar picture has emerged in Exeter. The Greens did well in Kingswood last night once again confirming their relevance.

Neighbouring MP Jacob Rees Mogg hung about at the election count as the Conservative candidate got out of there sharpish. Not something Rishi will have necessarily welcomed as Mogg seemed to spend the early hours telling anyone who’ll listen that if you add together votes for Reform and the Conservatives then this unification of right and the less-right would’ve won.

Alas they were not united and that’s partly the point. The Conservatives continue to lose votes to Labour and Reform and that general election continues to look stark for them.

How does this bode for the Conservative Party?

The Labour Party’s by-election victories in Wellingborough and Kingswood represent more than just isolated wins; they signify a potential turning point in British politics. Gen Kitchen’s and Damien Egan’s successes are emblematic of Labour’s ability to capitalise on local issues and voter dissatisfaction with the current Conservative leadership.

These victories, particularly under the shadow of forthcoming boundary changes and the general election, pose significant challenges for the Conservative Party. The losses in traditionally safe seats, compounded by the erosion of support to both Labour and other parties like the Greens and Reform, underscore the volatility of the current political climate.

As the Labour Party enjoys these wins, the focus now shifts to how it will address the promises made during the campaigns and whether it can sustain this momentum into the general election. For the Conservatives, the task is to reassess their strategy and unite a fracturing base. The outcomes of these by-elections not only shake up the political map but also set the stage for a fiercely contested battle for the future direction of the UK.

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