Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Foreign Affairs, Part II: Labour Voters Seize the Initiative

We had a preview of the two by-elections that took place in the U.K. yesterday, and promised a report on how they turned out. Regular British correspondent S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK, was kind enough to handle that for us:

Even as the polling stations were opening at Kingswood and Wellingborough at 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, PM Rishi Sunak was receiving some most unwelcome news. The Office of National Statistics revealed that in the 4th quarter of 2023, preliminary figures show the U.K. economy contracted by 0.3%. As this is the second consecutive quarter of shrinkage, the U.K. is now in a technical recession, albeit a shallow one. In fact, GDP per person has now fallen in 6 of the 7 last quarters and, given that most growth is usually concentrated in London and the Southeast, large parts of the country have probably been in continuous recession since the pandemic. With immaculate timing, The Daily Express, a newspaper which never lets things like facts or reality get in the way of its support of the Conservative Party, had a headline stating: "We're on the Up!" In virtually every interview recently, Sunak has been stating that the economy has "turned the corner." Downwards?

When the by-election counts were concluded, things had hardly improved. As (Z) noted earlier this week, special/by-elections are "inherently wonky." However, they can indicate and reinforce a trend, in this case one that started in mid-2021. Turnout was weak, in the high 30% range, and large chunks of the Conservative vote went "on strike."

At the bellwether seat of Kingswood, a 16.4% swing duly delivered a Labour victory of 2,501 votes. This swing is slightly less than that seen in some recent by-elections, perhaps reflecting the fact that this is a long-established swing constituency with set voting patterns. The candidate for the right-wing populist Reform Party got 10.4% of the vote, which explains where some of the Conservative vote went. The Green Party candidate, possibly helped by her party's strength in next door Bristol, was the only other to get more than 5% of the vote. Damian Egan, the victor, had already been selected as the general election candidate for the new Bristol North East seat, which is where the northern half of Kingswood will be heading after imminent boundary changes, so should have no problem transitioning to his new, fairly safe seat.

Given the circumstances of Peter Bone's removal at Wellingborough, a highly unusual result was expected, and boy did the voters deliver. A massive 28.5% swing from the Conservatives to Labour, powered by the biggest fall in the Conservative share of the vote in ANY by-election since the Second World War! Only the low turnout prevented Labour's Gen Kitchen getting a majority greater than 6,436 votes. The only party, apart from Labour or Conservative, to get more than 5% of the vote was Reform, as deputy leader Ben Habib claimed 13%.

It is a little too early to report all the reaction to these results, but these losses will do absolutely nothing to calm the nerves of our governing party.

Thanks, S.T.! Maybe someday soon, Rep.-Elect Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Egan and Kitchen will get together for beers. (Z)

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