In the mid-nineties you knew they were coming, New Labour that is. From 1993-97, a succession of by elections indicated that John Major’s tired and fractious Tories were in for a beating.
From a record swing from the Tories in Mid Staffordshire in 1993 ,to a memorable victory for Ben Chapman in Wirral South just before polling day in 1997,the Conservatives were victims of a pincer movement from Labour and the Lib Dems.Paddy Ashdown’s party mopped up Newbury, Christchurch, Eastleigh and Chris Davies won Littleborough and Saddleworth.
Are we to see a mini version of this on Thursday? The three by elections all pose fascinating prospects that could plunge the Tories into more factionalism, or it could cast doubt on Labour’s ability to win outright next year.
UXBRIDGE AND SOUTH RUISLIP
In the current circumstances overturning the 7,000 majority of the discredited Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be easy for Labour. But this West London suburban town has been narrowly loyal to the Conservatives in recent polls. There is also the issue of the Ultra Low Emission Zone. The Labour London mayor, Sadiq Khan, wants to impose the zone on the whole of London this summer, a move not popular with owners of polluting older cars and vans. The local Labour candidate opposes the move (of course he would). The by election won’t affect the extension of ULEZ, and Labour need to win here. If they don’t, it would be a serious blow for Sir Keir Starmer.
SELBY AND AINSTEY
Up here in the North, our interest is focused on the rural seat of Selby. East of Leeds and south of York. Although voters may take a dim view of the way the outgoing MP, Nigel Adams, flounced off with his mate Johnson, he leaves behind a whacking majority of 20,000.
With the Lib Dems nowhere, this is a straight Labour/Conservative contest. Labour have never overturned such a majority and defeat for the Tories here would send the alarm bells, already ringing in Tory ranks, into deafening mode.
SOMERTON AND FROME
While the implications of next Thursday are big for the Tories and Labour, this is less the case with the Lib Dems. A victory for them in this Somerset seat is almost being taken for granted despite the fact that the outgoing Tory MP had a 19,000 majority.
There are a number of reasons for Lib Dem optimism. The circumstances around the resignation of the current Tory MP, the fact that from 1997-2015 this was a Lib Dem constituency and last year they overturned a 24,000 Tory majority in nearby Tiverton and Honiton.
Yet despite spectacular victories also in Amersham and North Shropshire, the regular poll ratings for the Lib Dems remain low and their leader Sir Ed Davey almost invisible.
They will probably win on Thursday but then need to gain general momentum to make credible the Labour/Lib Dem pincer movement on the Tories next year.
I worked with Hugh Edwards briefly many years ago in Westminster. I am sad for him, all the families involved and the BBC.
The Sun’s suggestion that they never suggested criminality is laughable.