Three by-elections in one night, each one with a different winner – the “something for everyone” takes almost write themselves and, by the time this is published, many of them will already be out in the wild.
The reality is, whatever your political persuasion, Thursday’s results were catastrophic both for Rishi Sunak personally and for the Conservative Party as a whole. The fact of having three by-elections in government-held seats, all at once, less then a year into a new leader’s tenure itself tells you things are far from normal.
Adding in to that the fact all three were in seats that should be extremely safe for the Conservatives – two had majorities of 20,000 at the last election, and the other was a comfortable majority and had been formerly held by the party’s leader – and losing even one seat would have been a very bad sign.
Let’s get the ostensible ‘good’ news for the Conservatives out of the way: the party held on to Uxbridge and South Ruislip. They did this with a majority of just 495 votes, down from around 7,500, and this came in an election during the holidays, when the thousands of Brunel students usually living in the constituency were away.
The campaign was turned into a referendum on the ULEZ (a charge on the oldest, worst-emitting cars, to reduce air pollution), to which Labour had no answer. So off-guard was the Conservative Party – and so clueless their candidate – that even after victory the winner was unable to claim the win held any meaning other than a rejection of Khan and ULEZ.
The two losses both came from swings of more than 20,000, and leave the Conservatives vulnerable in all sorts of seats they need to be safe. In a general election, parties rely on bussing in MPs, councillors and activists from safe seats into marginal ones – to defend vulnerable seats and try to pick up new ones.