ANALYSIS: County MPs ponder morning after dramatic Labour victories
By Simon Hacker | 20th October 2023
What makes a safe seat? Perhaps a majority of 10,000 votes, or as we see in two rural Gloucestershire constituencies, more than 20,000? Surely that's inviolable?
As politicians brush off the shrapnel from two bombshell wins for Labour in by-elections overnight, such questions will be weighing heavily upon the six Conservative MPs sitting in seats that represent Gloucestershire voters. So Punchline-Gloucester.com has been interrogating the pie charts to assess how future votes may go.
Keir Starmer's Labour party won Tamworth last night with a dramatic swing of 23.9% away from the existing Conservative vote, while Mid Bedfordshire, also a Tory seat, saw the largest ever turnaround of a majority in a UK by election.
Exiting MP Nadine Dorries had enjoyed a cushion of 24,664, which is bigger than that enjoyed by any current Gloucestershire MP. In a bid to replace Ms Dorries, Festus Akinbusoye slipped to second and the seat turned red for the first time in its 100-year history. The swing here was 20.5%.
Meanwhile, Sky News reported that Tamworth's result was the biggest wipeout of a Conservative majority since 1945. Resigned MP Chris Pincher's majority in 2019 was 19,634, a number (although the actual definition doesn't fix a threshold) traditionally indicative of a 'safe' seat. In the event, hopeful replacement Andrew Cooper was pipped by Labour's Sarah Edwards by a majority of 1,316.
Measuring Mid-Bedfordshire's swing, the website Election Maps UK tweeted on X that the same trend in a general election would give Labour 480 seats, the Lib Dems 104 and the Conservatives... a total of just 20. All blue areas of the county map, it forecasted by another infographic, will disappear.
Speaking to the BBC professor Sir John Curtice said: "The real thing to take away from these byelections is, yes spectacular byelections we've had before, spectacular wins by the SNP in the past, spectacular gains by the Liberal Democrats but this is spectacular gains by the principal opposition party. They don't happen anything like so often."
Here in Gloucestershire, the county is currently represented by six MPs and will continue to do so at the impending election, despite minor boundary changes in the pipeline.
If we judge, as per the Mid Bedforshire result, a majority of more than 24,000 votes as being unsafe, what are the precise implications for our incumbent MPs?
The full list of Gloucestershire MPs in total, with their majority votes from 2019, is: Siobhan Baillie, Stroud, 3,840, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Cotswold. 20,214, Alex Chalk, Cheltenham 981, Richard Graham, Gloucester, 10,227, Mark Harper, Forest of Dean, 15,869 and Laurence Robertson, Tewkesbury, 22,410.
As these margins suggest, when measured against the results overnight, no seat appears safe. But within that prediction, we can safely dial in various political caveats: by-elections, as all well-rehearsed politican on the stump in the aftermath will tell you, represent a protest vote where a smaller, more motivated electorate uses the the opportunity to vent its anger, often over local issues. When faced with the more important choice of choosing their MP for a five-year tenure, voters vote differently. Furthermore, Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands said there were "legacy issues" pertaining to both by-election seats which exacerbated the result.
Punchline-Gloucester.com requested a statement from Gloucestershire Conservatives, who said they had no collective comment.
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