Whilst the two parliamentary by-elections of Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland went on, four local by-elections went on this week. Here are their results:
Basingstoke & Deane BC, Winklebury: Labour 824 (61.6%, +31.1%), Conservative 472 (35.3%, -10.1%), Liberal Democrats 42 (3.1%, -2.7%). Labour gain from Conservative; all changes are since May 2015.
Epping Forest DC, Chigwell Village: Conservative 453 (76.0%, +1.0%), Liberal Democrats 143 (24.0%). All changes are since May 2016.
Kettering BC, Barton: Liberal Democrats 644 (57.0%), Conservative 337 (29.8%,-19.3%),UKIP 106 (9.4%, -14.0%), Green 42 (3.7%, -3.5%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.
South Hams DC, Charterlands: Liberal Democrats 473 (46.1%), Conservative 404 (39.3%, -25.0%), Labour 110 (10.7%), Green 40 (3.9%, -15.6%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.
Those three local by-election Conservative losses mar their otherwise good night in the two parliamentary by-elections mentioned above, especially when in both the cases of Barton and Charterlands, the Liberal Democrats did not even stand last time. Localism proved to be the name of the game again, with the newly-elected Liberal Democrat councillor opposing planned developments in the west of South Hams (close to the city of Plymouth) and winning as a result. In both cases, my fellow Greens were heavily squeezed as a direct result. Whether results like these will precipitate some surprise Liberal Democrat comebacks at parliamentary level where they lost to the Conservatives in 2015 remains to be seen.
Labour is in bigger trouble than ever before, and Copeland is not the only seat of its kind they are likely to lose in the near future. Here are the top five otherwise reliably held Labour seats (since 1935/1945/1950 continuously) with relatively similar demographics to Copeland most likely to fall to the Conservatives at the next general election (not usually accounting for upcoming major boundary changes):
North East Derbyshire (held by Labour since 1935): Once a safely Labour mining constituency, but now increasingly becoming a commuter belt to the nearby city of Sheffield, especially in the town of Dromfield. The Labour majority at the last general election is the lowest in this seat's history at just 1,883 (and equal in percentage terms to the 3.9% low they hit in 1983) and the demographics are turning against them.
Newcastle-under-Lyme (held by Labour since 1919): Admittedly, Newcastle-under-Lyme has never been safe for Labour, but has continuously evaded opposition attempts to snatch it. The Labour majority achieved in this seat in 2015 was the lowest ever at 650, lower even than the majority of 796 they managed against Liberal Alan Thomas' best efforts in the by-election of 1986. The town is getting more Conservative with the decline of the nearby pottery industry and with more middle-class commuters to Stoke-on-Trent settling there.
Bishop Auckland (held by Labour since 1935): The only seat in County Durham's remit to contain any solidly Conservative places (Barnard Castle, which in 2013 elected the only four Conservative councillors currently sitting on Durham Council) and with the Labour majority almost as low as that in 1983. Tactical voting by UKIP could easily cause a Conservative victory just as it did in Copeland on Thursday.
Wrexham (held by Labour since 1935, barring Tom Ellis' brief SDP period of 1981-83): This very nearly went Conservative in 1983 in a three-way contest between Labour, the Conservatives, and SDP-Liberal Alliance. The economic transition it has been making since the loss of its coalfields has brought about considerable changes meaning it must now be considered a key Labour marginal than the safe Labour seat it once was.
Wakefield (held by Labour since 1932): This was marginal throughout the 1980s and has become so again. Even though it actually swung against the Conservatives in 2015 by 1.2%, it is still marginal and Labour are unlikely to be so lucky next time, especially with its prosperity compared to other seats I have mentioned above.
The Conservative gains of Morley & Outwood (partly also attributable to Ed Balls, of course), Telford, and Gower in 2015 were just the start of this trend (even accounting for substantial boundary changes in the past, none of these three seats would have gone to the Conservatives in 1983 based on their current boundaries) where Labour is in long-term decline in many of its semi-rural/urban heartlands located outside metropolitan areas (and sometimes close to them).