A byelection has been called in the Labour safe seat of Stretford and Urmston after MP Kate Green resigned. Having previously said she would not stand in the next general election, Green will move to the position of deputy mayor of Greater Manchester. With the recent record of byelection troubles for the Conservatives, even before the disastrous slide in the polls, Labour will feel confident of holding the seat and with a highly credible candidate in the form of leader of Trafford Council, Andrew Western. Labour door steppers should feel relaxed.
During the brief and calamitous Liz Truss tenure as PM, polling for the Tories was in freefall and things haven’t improved much since Rishi Sunak took over. Even under the supposedly popular Boris Johnson, the Tories have fared badly in recent by-elections, including losing a seat they had held since 1923.
By-election woes for the Tories
Since gaining Hartlepool from Labour in early 2021, the Tories have lost seats to the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire, and Tiverton and Honiton and to Labour in Wakefield. They also failed to win in Batley and Spen, which was a red wall target seat. In Batley and Spen, Labour won by a mere 323 votes after throwing the kitchen sink at the seat and with candidate Kim Leadbeater, sister of Jo Cox, the former MP from 2015-2016, presenting herself as a local candidate with a proven track record on local issues.
The Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield byelections, on the 6th anniversary of the 2016 Brexit referendum, presented progressives with the most cause for celebration in several years. The anti-Tory vote coalesced around the Lib Dems in Tiverton and Honiton and Labour in Wakefield. Campaigners encouraged voters to use a voteswapping website to swap votes.
Both were Tory seats and both MPs had resigned in disgrace with Imran Ahmad Khan being found guilty of child sexual assault, while Neil Parish was caught watching porn inside the House of Commons chamber after googling, as he claimed, for tractors. The grassroots tactical voting campaign appeared to be successful, with the progressive voters getting firmly behind one candidate in both constituencies.
In North Shropshire, Owen Patterson resigned in disgrace too. Despite losing the Tory whip, Chris Pincher somehow managed to hang on to his seat, even after admitting to a drunken sexual assault which resulted in Johnson’s downfall as PM. The Tory House of Commons majority is currently 70, down from 80 after the 2019 general election. And, according to Conservative Party sources, there are dozens of “unexploded bombs” which could cause their MPs to have to vacate their seats if the stories were publicly exposed.
Changes that will impact on future elections
A number of changes will be in place for the next general election, including constituency boundary changes. Seats in Trafford, including Stretford and Urmston, will not be affected by boundary changes. Other changes include mandatory voter ID at voting booths. This measure, which is set to be rolled out for the local elections in 2023, is a blatant attempt at undemocratic voter suppression. The recent publication of accepted forms of ID favouring older voters who are more likely to vote Conservative further confirms this.
Thankfully it won’t be in place in time for the Stretford and Urmston byelection. It may not be implementable in time for the locals either. By rights, it should be scrapped completely.
Though opposition parties don’t have to worry about voter ID, there are plenty of underhand and illegal tactics to look out for from the Tories at both grassroots and top level. Since winning the 2016 referendum with lying and law breaking, the ‘Vote Leave’ Tory faction who have been in power have increasingly favoured lying and cheating as a means to win elections.
The ‘big lie’ strategy was deployed in 2019, in this case to ‘Get Brexit Done’, following on from ‘Take Back Control’ in 2016. Voters were cynically misled by social media posts into thinking a Tory Party account was a neutral fact checker. In the local elections in 2021 many tactics were employed by Tories to cheat, for instance the racist and misogynist targeting of former Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah. She was targeted by far-right campaigners including Tory Councillors who smeared her relentlessly.
With changes to the Electoral Commission this year, bringing it under Government control and thereby curbing its powers, the use of such tactics is liable to increase unchecked.
A humiliation for the Tories in Stretford and Urmston would be good to see, especially if they lose their deposit. And, if the Rejoin Party runs a strong campaign in this Labour safe seat to highlight the issue of rejoining the EU, so much the better.
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