E-scooters at a crossroads
E-scooters at a crossroads

Regaining momentum: Labour's double by-election win despite political difficulties

Words by:
Account Executive
February 19, 2024

Last Friday, Labour gained a double by-election win in the Conservative safe seats of Wellingborough and Kingswood, despite a tough couple of weeks for the party politically.

Labour secured 44.9% and 45.9% of votes in Kingswood and Wellingborough, respectively, with a 28.6% swing in Wellingborough, making it the second biggest Conservative to Labour swing in a by-election since the Second World War.

Critically, this boosts Labour’s tally of seats gained from the Conservatives in by-elections since July to six.

Last month, WA were delighted to host political polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice. His analysis outlined many of the issues at play in these two by-elections – the Conservative Party’s misreading of public priorities, the rise of Reform, yet a mixed record and lack of enthusiasm for Labour.

A strong cause for Conservative concern

Locally, in Wellingborough, Helen Harrison, partner of the constituency’s former MP Peter Bone, emerged as the candidate. The by-election arose after the suspension of Bone following allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct. While Harrison expressed confidence that these distinctive circumstances would not affect her electoral prospects, it would not be unexpected if they had done so.

Conservatives like Jacob-Rees Mogg have pointed to low voter turnout as the crucial element responsible, with 38% in Wellingborough and 37.1% in Kingswood. But when you delve into the details, the argument loses its edge. Low turn-out in by-elections is not unusual, and considering Labour’s prior successes, it seems they have developed a trend of consecutive by-election victories.

Nationally, the Conservatives have faced a myriad of issues that may have impacted electoral outcomes:

On Thursday, the ONS announced that the UK economy is in a recession, adding to voters’ concerns about the NHS and the ‘cost of living’ crisis. This is a significant setback for Rishi Sunak, who pledged to ‘grow the economy’, and instead is now faced with a 0.3% shrinkage in the economy in the last quarter of 2023.

Another influential factor in shaping the by-election results likely stemmed from the government’s handling of immigration issues – where ‘stopping the boats’ is now closely intertwined with ‘stopping Reform’.

The by-election has underscored that significant challenge posed by Richard Tice’s party to the Conservatives. Reform fielded candidates in both by-elections, securing 10.4% of the vote in Kingswood, and 13% in Wellingborough – demonstrating that their appeal translates from hypothetical opinion polling into votes (and more … with Wellingborough’s 13% result for the party a record result, and comfortably exceeding its 10% national poll figure).

Plans to put up a candidate against every Conservative in the upcoming general election means the Conservatives may find themselves engaged in a multi-front battle that hands victory to Labour – Reform splitting the Conservative vote to the extent seen on Thursday could result in dozens more Tory MPs losing their seats.

Tough time for Labour politically.

But Labour has also had a tough time politically. (One poll by Savanta conducted the weekend before the by-election even suggested a seven-point drop for Labour).

One source of this political difficulty stemmed from the abandonment of their flagship £28 billion green energy spending commitment. This decision has proven to be a significant dilemma for Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves – as she tried to balance the overriding priority of demonstrating responsible economic stewardship, with a spending pledge portrayed by opponents as reckless, and the perception that a policy reversal portrayed the party as indecisive and overly responsive to opposition critiques.

A second political challenge had arisen from the controversial remarks made by Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali that Israel had used the October 7th attacks as a justification for invading Gaza. Many criticised the Labour Party for not suspending him fast enough. Given Keir Starmer’s efforts to distance the party from the Corbyn era, especially concerning accusations of unaddressed antisemitism, the handling of this situation created opportunities for the opposition to attack.

A further setback for the Conservative Party than a substantial advancement for Labour?

The outcome is the same nonetheless, Keir Starmer adds a further two seats to his tally of consecutive by-election victories, and the political weather moves on (at least for now) from what has been a difficult few weeks for the Labour Party leader.

The double by-election victory has undoubtedly alleviated concerns within Labour, suggesting that these challenges have not significantly affected voter behaviour.

But for the Conservatives, public enthusiasm has waned, perceived government failure on immigration is pushing voters towards Reform, and those Reform voters are turning out at the ballot box.

While there remains a question regarding the level of enthusiasm among voters for Labour, the party seems to be on a trajectory toward forming the next government – while the Conservatives added a new front to their list of problems.

Share this content:

Register for insights

Speak to us
020 7222 9500

6th Floor, Artillery House
11-19 Artillery Row
Sign Up
Complete the form below to sign up to our newsletter:




    By submitting this form you agree to WA Communications’ Privacy Policy.