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Why Wakefield is a bad result for Keir S ...

Why Wakefield is a bad result for Keir Starmer

Jun 24, 2022

Labour has just regained the seat of Wakefield from the Tories. That should be good news for the party but when you dig into the election result numbers they actually make rather grim reading.

Boris Johnson has two fewer MPs today than he had yesterday. The Tories have lost both the Wakefield and the Tiverton and Honiton by-elections. Labour has regained the seat of Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats have gained Tiverton and Honiton with a 30% swing.

The Labour leader Keir Starmer will probably claim the result is evidence that Labour is on its way to power but is that claim true? An analysis of the by-election result would suggest not.

Wakefield has been a solid Labour seat since the 1920s. The constituency voted leave in the referendum. The breakdown of the referendum vote was similar to the national breakdown, 62% of voters in the constituency voted leave. 

The Blairite MP Mary Creagh lost the seat in 2019. Labour's vote share fell by 9.9% yet had increased by 9.4% at the 2017 general election. Why did the Labour vote swing so wildly in the same seat and in the space of just two years? The answer is simple: Creagh was a prominent supporter of Keir Starmer's second referendum policy. By supporting a policy 62% of her constituents were against, Creagh effectively handed the seat to the Tories.

Labour won 13,166 votes at yesterday’s by-election, 4,759 votes fewer than 2019. This continues the trend of the Labour vote falling since Keir Starmer became leader. The party’s vote has fallen dramatically at every single by-election except one since Starmer was elected leader in April 2020.

The fall in the Labour vote should concern anyone who wants the Tories to lose the next general election. There is a further cause for concern. The fall has occurred despite the Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders agreeing a non-aggression electoral pact. We saw that pact in action at the Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton by-elections. Both leaders tacitly endorsed their parties supporting each other in the pair of by-elections and encouraged Labour and Liberal Democrats in each constituency to swop votes to defeat the Tories.

As a brief aside, supporting other parties is an expellable offence under Labour Party rules. Judging by comments in the media and social media, it appears right wing members of the party are allowed to advertise and support other parties with no consequences. Left wing Labour members have been expelled from the party for tweeting about the Foo Fighters. Keir Starmer’s Labour seems to be applying two different sets of rules to members.

So what does the Wakefield by-election result tell us about Labour’s chance of winning power at the next election? It tells us that despite the unpopularity of the Tory government and despite the Liberal Democrats encouraging their voters to vote Labour, the Labour vote in Wakefield has fallen by almost 5,000 votes in just two years. It tells us that the Labour vote is diminishing under Starmer’s leadership. Parties with diminishing bases don’t win power.

While Starmer’s supporters are already wildly celebrating the result on twitter, I would strike a note of caution and suggest the Wakefield result reveals serious flaws in Labour’s electoral strategy. If the problems causing the collapse of the Labour vote are not addressed then I do not see how Labour will be able to defeat the Tories. 

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