With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, the time has come for me to make my predictions for 2024. I have decided now to make my British predictions first and leave those for Australia and the USA to the end of the year. The reasoning for that decision is my judgment that all the British evidence is now in. So, why delay?
Boris Johnson was Prime Minister from July 2019 until he resigned in disgrace on Tuesday 6 September 2022. Then Liz Truss was the unfortunate Conservative Prime Minister until Tuesday 25 October. She spent seven weeks as PM, the shortest-term British leader since the six weeks as Prime Minister in 1827 of George Canning (1770-1827). Her term’s only notable feature was that Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday 8 September. Truss was the 15th Elizabethan British PM.
So, Rishi Sunak has now been Prime Minister for a year, and I predict that the calendar year 2023 will be recorded by historians as his only full year in office. The opinion polls have consistently shown Labour some 20 points ahead of the Conservative Party during his term, but I also take note of by-elections in this circumstance.
I admit I am repeating myself. In my article posted on 18 September “Could British and Scottish PMs learn from Anthony Albanese?” I wrote: “I predict Sunak will be replaced by Sir Keir Starmer at the next British general election I expect to be held in October next year.” His will be a majority government with Labour winning 340 seats in a House of Commons of 650 members. I’ll give more detail next year when the precise election date is announced.
There have been nine by-elections under Sunak of which three were uncompetitive in non-Conservative seats. So, six by-elections were important, all of them caused by the member leaving in some form of disgrace. All nine by-elections were held on a Thursday, the standard British polling day. Five of the six important by-elections occurred in “blue ribbon” Conservative seats – with only one being retained by the Conservative Party. Statistically it was the most unlikely retention!
The British have a first-past-the-post system of voting and counting of votes. In such a circumstance each by-election took place in a two-party system, but not necessarily contested between the Conservative and Labour parties. While all the by-elections had multiple candidates on the ballot paper, I treat all of them as having effective votes for the top two candidates with all other votes treated as though they finished up in the rubbish bin. That is the agreed academic way to calculate swing in votes between parties in a first-past-the-post system.
My treatment of the six by-elections begins with the four seats of Conservative-Labour competition. They are not discussed chronologically but in the order of magnitude of swing to Labour. That means I begin with the north Yorkshire rural seat of Selby and Ainsty.
Selby and Ainsty, December 2019
Nigel Adams (Conservative) 33,995 votes 71.04%
Malik Rofidi (Labour) 13,858 votes 28.96%
Conservative majority 20,137 votes
Selby and Ainsty, July 2023
Keir Mather (Labour) 16,456 votes 57.24%
Claire Holmes (Conservative) 12,295 votes 42.76%
Labour majority 4,161 votes
So, the swing to Labour was 28.3%. A huge 2019 majority was over-turned.
Coming in second is the Staffordshire seat of Tamworth where the statistics are:
Tamworth, December 2019
Christopher Pincher (Conservative) 30,542 votes 73.68%
Christopher Bain (Labour) 10,908 votes 26.32%
Conservative majority 19,634 votes
Tamworth, October 2023
Sarah Edwards (Labour) 11,719 votes 52.97%
Andrew Cooper (Conservative) 10,403 votes 47.03%
Labour majority 1,316 votes
So, the swing to Labour was 26.7%. Another huge 2019 majority was over-turned.
Coming third in size of swing to Labour is Mid Bedfordshire, a seat that is rural and affluent and held consistently by the Conservative Party since 1931. Here are the statistics:
Mid Bedfordshire, December 2019
Nadine Dorries (Conservative) 38,692 votes 73.39%
Rhiannon Meades (Labour) 14,028 votes 26.61%
Conservative majority 24,664 votes
Mid Bedfordshire, October 2023
Alistair Strathearn (Labour) 13,872 votes 52.24%
Festus Akinbusoye (Conservative) 12,680 votes 47.76%
Labour majority 1,192 votes
So, the swing to Labour was 25.6%. Yet another huge 2019 majority was over-turned.
That being so the next constituency is the odd case out. Statistically it was so unlikely that the seat once held by Boris Johnson would stay Conservative (while the three named above would go to Labour) that I devoted a special article to this case. See my post of 7 August titled “Conservatives retain banished Boris Johnson’s old Commons seat”. The statistics were:
Uxbridge and Ruislip South, December 2019
Boris Johnson (Conservative) 25,351 votes 58.29%
Ali Milani (Labour) 18,141 votes 41.71%
Conservative majority 7,210 votes
Uxbridge and Ruislip South, July 2023
Steve Tuckwell (Conservative) 13,965 votes 50.90%
Danny Beales (Labour) 13,470 votes 49.10%
Conservative majority 495 votes
So, the swing to Labour was only 7.4% – and the seat was held.
However, I have yet to conclude my description of the pain suffered by the Conservative Party under Sunak’s leadership. I say that because there was another painful by-election for them, a “blue ribbon” rural seat in Somerset where the two-party competition has been between the Conservative and Liberal Democrats parties. Here are the statistics:
Somerton and Frome. December 2019
David Warburton (Conservative) 36,230 votes 68.04%
Adam Boyden (Liberal Democrats) 17,017 votes 31.96%
Conservative majority 19,213 votes
Somerton and Frome, July 2023
Sarah Dyke (Liberal Democrats) 21,187 votes 67.55%
Faye Purbrick (Conservative) 10,179 votes 32.45%
Liberal Democrats majority 11,008 votes
So, the swing to the Liberal Democrats was 35.6%, a two-to-one conservative majority being reversed into a two-to-one Liberal Democrats majority. That was the biggest swing of them all.
In most Scottish seats there is a two-party competition between Labour and the Scottish National Party – and an example of that is provided by the House of Commons constituency known as Rutherglen and Hamilton West. It is composed of a commuter population south-east of Glasgow and at the 2019 general election the statistics were these:
Rutherglen and Hamilton West, December 2019
Margaret Ferrier (SNP) 23,775 votes 56.18%
Ged Killen (Labour) 18,545 votes 43.82%
SNP majority 5,230 votes
The circumstances of why there was a by-election were fully explained by me in the article of 18 September cited above “Could British and Scottish PMs learn from Anthony Albanese?”. Anyway, there was a by-election on 5 October and the statistics are these:
Rutherglen and Hamilton West, October 2023
Michael Shanks (Labour) 17,845 votes 68.00%
Katy Loudon (SNP) 8,399 votes 32.00%
Labour majority 9,446 votes
So, the swing to Labour was 24.2%. In the article cited above, I confidently predicted the election of Michael Shanks and then wrote: “I predict that there will be 16 Scottish Labour members in the next UK term, an important part of the parliamentary party being the majority Labour government led by Starmer”.
I stand by that prediction. Clearly, therefore, Labour will make big gains and both Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists will be the big losers at the October 2024 British general election.