3 and 10 February
The first fortnight of February 2022 proved to be an excellent one for the Liberal Democrats in particular, although more than half of the contests featured by-elections where only they and the Conservatives were in competition. It was nevertheless very surprising that they avoided being tactically squeezed in the Evington by-election, where continuing woes within Leicester East CLP – in light of the ongoing troubles surrounding Claudia Webbe – led to the Conservatives achieving a 14.3 per cent swing and missing out on a gain by only 165 votes.
Their gain of Ancoats and Beswick is not as surprising given that Labour often gets complacent on metropolitan councils where they have little or no opposition; as of this time of writing, 91 out of 96 councillors on Manchester MBC are Labour. In Campden and The Vale, where the two candidates lived next door to each other, the absence of a UKIP candidate proved crucial to a Conservative hold of that ward, especially when the Liberal Democrats have been making substantial inroads into affluent Conservative strongholds since the European Union membership referendum of June 2016.
It is rare that the Greens have to defend council seats instead of gain ones within reach during by-elections. Their defence of Thurston proved to be easy with a 16.4 per cent swing in their favour, although they missed gaining Southmead by just 52 votes. This comes in spite of their growing popularity in Bristol and the growing dissatisfaction with Bristol's Labour Mayor, Marvin Rees.
Apart from their gain in Oundle, which even featured in regional BBC headlines, the Liberal Democrats had a disappointing week. Their loss of Wigston Meadowcourt on a 28.5 per cent swing to the Conservatives is due to unpopular recent parking charges imposed by Oadby and Wigston council, which has been under Liberal Democrat control since 1991, usually with large majorities. Furthermore, they narrowly failed to gain Tavistock North, and the Conservatives' gain of that ward strengthens their control of West Devon council, which they gained control of last year following a by-election gain. Nor did the Liberal Democrats gain Collingham in Newark and Sherwood, despite being endorsed by the Independent who convincingly won the Nottinghamshire County Council division of the same name (the other Collingham by-election had no Liberal Democrat candidate).
Labour's only notable result was gaining Stainburn and Clifton in "Red Wall" Allerdale, marking a way back against the Conservatives in their former strongholds. Their failure to gain Park ward, the most affluent ward of the old fishing port of Great Grimsby, shows a clear limit to tactical voting; the Conservatives held that seat amidst split opposition since both the Liberal Democrat and Labour vote shares increased significantly.
23 and 24 February
The majority of this week's by-elections took place in very safe Conservative wards/divisions, but even there the Conservatives lost significant amounts of support, except in St Peter's, Castle Point which they narrowly held against a strong Independent challenge. Furthermore, the lack of a UKIP candidate did not help the Conservatives in Stanwell North as expected, a clear sign of the "Brexit halo" wearing off, even in Conservative-inclined areas.
The most surprising result this week was Labour's gain of Ferryhill, which at last year's elections to Durham Council was split evenly with one Independent councillor, one Labour councillor, and one Conservative councillor. Joe Makepeace, who had narrowly been defeated last year, failed spectacularly in his efforts to regain his seat, finishing a poor fourth place. It is also a sign that Labour is regaining ground amongst moderate Labour voters having demonstrably failed to do so last year, although arguably this is also attributable to growing dissatisfaction with Boris Johnson amidst numerous scandals and nepotism.
The by-election in Thurston, which we successfully defended with an increased majority, combined with almost gaining Southmead in Bristol, is a reminder that as our councillor base grows and grows each passing year, we will soon be having to defend local by-elections on a regular basis and more by-elections will be in wards winnable for the Green Party. This stands us in good stead to win many more seats in May.
You can read more of Alan Borgars' coverage of elections home and abroad on his blog alansgreenthoughts.blogspot.com.