A MAJOR, decisive vote – signalling public outrage at the establishment – sent shockwaves through government on June 23.
No, this isn’t 2016, but 2022. Six years on from the Brexit vote sealing the fate of one Prime Minister, two concurrent by-elections may have chalked the writing on the wall for another.
Both elections saw the Conservative vote melt in different directions. Wakefield, an old Red Wall seat that fell to the Tories in 2019, reverted to type by returning a Labour MP with a resounding margin.
Meanwhile in Tiverton and Honiton, the Liberal Democrats duplicated their success in North Shropshire, overturning one of the safest Conservative seats in the nation.
Boris Johnson is in deep trouble. It wasn’t just that these two by-elections saw Conservative support dissipate. What is more damning is that these are two Brexit voting seats.
Add the mounting pressure over Partygate and the recent no-confidence vote, and the Prime Minister’s position is looking increasingly untenable.
That being said, Johnson is unlikely to resign voluntarily. More likely, his exit will come when he is voted out – either by his party or the nation.
And what these two by-elections have proved is that when opposition parties play a smart game, they can overturn even the most gargantuan of majorities.
Talk of a Progressive Alliance has floated around for years at this point.
This is the suggestion that left-leaning parties, be that Labour, the Greens or (most tenuously) the Liberal Democrats should join forces in an election to maximise their vote in each constituency – with the primary aim of defeating the Conservatives at a local level.
The idea is not a new one. The Gladstone–MacDonald pact in the early 20th century saw the old Liberal Party stand aside for the fledgeling political Labour movement in certain seats to maximise the anti-Tory vote – arguably leading to the ascendency of Labour as Britain’s second party.
It also makes sense, given the tendency of first-past-the-post to lead voters to cast their ballot against a less desirable party rather than out of any serious conviction.
But any Progressive Alliance should be careful not to appear opportunist. There are fewer things the British electorate despises more than a politician who tries to game the system for their benefit.
Just ask Theresa May how it turned out with her attempt to capitalise on strong Tory polling in 2017.
The two June 23 by-elections present a good model of where any 21st century Progressive Alliance should go. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats stood in both seats. But the vote largely coalesced around the party most likely to win.
Standing down for the other party would seem like the height of cynicism. But an informal non-aggression pact could see the two parties save face in standing candidates in every seat while working as an alliance of convenience to unseat 12 year long Tory rule.
Maybe then, will we see a golden opportunity for serious electoral reform.
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