We face yet another by-election as soon as February, after more than 10,000 of Tory MP Peter Bone’s constituents signed a recall petition.
The focus should be on the Tories, not least if Bone were to run as an independent. But Labour’s recent by-election sensations and poll lead mean anything short of a wonder-victory overturning an 18,500-vote Tory majority risks being portrayed as a huge setback for Keir Starmer.
So can Labour win? MRP polling by Savanta earlier this year had Labour on 47% to the Tories 35% (down from 62%) in the Northamptonshire market town.
Their political research director Chris Hopkins tells me: “Add in the usual by-election factors, low turnout, protest against the government, desire to give Bone a kicking, and it’s a seat where Reform could do well – Labour should take this fairly comfortably.”
Some in Labour do think it is winnable too given the unpopularity of Bone and the Tories alike, the Lib Dems only taking 7.9% of the vote in 2019 and a likeable Labour candidate (read her recent piece for us here).
On the flipside, Labour has far less time to win round sceptical voters than it had in Mid Beds or Rutherglen. Wellingborough voted heavily to Leave, the kind of area Labour “would not even have dreamed of winning” a few years ago, as Labour Together’s research director (and LabourList columnist…) Christabel Cooper notes.
Her colleague Josh Williams tells LabourList that the 18-percentage-point swing needed exceeds Labour’s lead in some recent polls.
Yet even if the Tories scrape over the line, Cooper says a huge Labour swing will still debunk the idea 2019 marked a ‘great realignment’ of socially conservative voters to the Tories – and as Williams adds, “be yet more evidence the country is ready for a change”.
Can Starmer rally young members behind him?
For all Starmer has overhauled Labour and ensured supporters fill key posts, from his shadow cabinet to the national executive committee to parliamentary candidates, some holdouts of the left remain.
Activists backed by Socialist Future currrently have a majority on the Labour Students and Young Labour committees, but recently announced spring elections for both will be a revealing test of Starmer’s current support – or not – among younger members.
Left and pro-leadership slates have both been unveiled in recent weeks, and my colleague Katie has a run-down here.
Battle for the future of Welsh Labour
He predicts a close race between two strong candidates, and explores issues that could prove key in the race and in their in-tray as First Minister, from public name recognition to the 20mph policy, NHS and education challenges to negotiating with a Starmer government.
The race comes at a particularly difficult time, with the Welsh government announcing wide-ranging cutbacks in its draft budget this week.
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