Home Somerset rules The government suffers its first double defeat in a by-election since 1991

The government suffers its first double defeat in a by-election since 1991


The Conservatives’ defeat at the polls in Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield is the first time in more than 30 years that a government has lost two by-elections on the same day. The previous occasion was on November 7, 1991, when the Conservative government of John Major lost the seat of Langbaurgh in Cleveland to Labour, as well as that of Kincardine & Deeside in the east of Scotland to the Liberal Democrats .

A double defeat of a government in a by-election is so rare in British politics that it has happened only seven times since the Second World War. The Liberal Democrats needed a swing of at least 22.8 percentage points to win Tiverton & Honiton – in other words, 23 out of 100 people in the constituency who voted Conservative in the 2019 general election had to go straight to the Lib Dems.

In the event, they pulled off a swing of 29.9 points: big enough to rank sixth against a government since 1945 in a by-election that saw a change of party and MP. The biggest such swing came in July 1993 in the Christchurch by-election, which was won by the Lib Dems on a swing of 35.4 points over the Tories.

Close behind is the 34.1 point swing the Lib Dems achieved against the Tories in the North Shropshire by-election in December last year. All of these six major changes were made by either the Liberal Democrats or its predecessor, the Liberal Party.

If the swing at Tiverton & Honiton were repeated evenly in the next general election, based on current parliamentary boundaries, the outcome would see many Tories lose their seats, including Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab (at Esher & Walton), former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) and former Prime Minister Theresa May (Maidenhead).

Labor needed a much weaker swing of just 3.8 percentage points to take Wakefield from the Tories. They won the seat on a swing of 12.7 points – coincidentally, exactly the same size swing as Labor made the last time it won a Tory seat in a by-election, in Corby in 2012.

A swing of this magnitude is the kind Labor needs at the next general election to have a chance of securing an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons. It is also the scale of the swing which, if repeated evenly in the general election on the current parliamentary boundaries, would result in the defeat of people like former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith (in Chingford & Woodford Green), Secretary Environment George Eustice (Camborne & Redruth), Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) and the Prime Minister himself, Boris Johnson (Uxbridge & South Ruislip).

The next general election is set to take place on new constituency boundaries, though these won’t be finalized until the summer of 2023. History suggests that voter behavior in by-elections isn’t always a reliable guide. what will happen in the next general election. .

Labor’s victory in Corby in 2012 was overturned in 2015 when the Conservatives won the seat. And the last time the Tories suffered a double partial electoral defeat while in power – in November 1991 – the party won back both constituencies just five months later in the 1992 general election.