Kingswood byelection: Labour wins by overturning a sizable Tory majority

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Labour has won the byelection in the Kingswood South Gloucestershire constituency, overturning a majority of more than 11,000 Tories.

Despite the fact that the seat will be eliminated at the next general election, Damien Egan, who quit as the mayor of south-east London’s Lewisham to run for the seat, is happy with his win following a polished and spirited Labour campaign. With a majority of 2,501 votes, he defeated his closest opponent, Sam Bromiley of the Conservatives, with 11,1176 votes. Labour prevailed with a 16.4% percentage point swing in the vote share, which is far more than the required 11.4 point swing.

Kingswood byelection result

Labour also overturned a Tory majority of more than 18,000 in Wellingborough, dealing a double blow to Rishi Sunak’s hopes of clinging on to power at the next general election. Even before the result came in the prime minister was criticised for presiding over an insipid effort to defend Kingswood.

The result will come as a relief to Labour following the antisemitism scandal that has engulfed the party this week. But the alarm bells may sound over the size of the Reform UK vote, which came in third with 10.4% – the party’s best byelection result so far this parliament and since it rebranded from the Brexit party in 2021.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said: “This is a fantastic result in Kingswood that shows people are ready to put their trust in a Labour government. By winning in this Tory stronghold, we can confidently say that Labour is back in the service of working people and we will work tirelessly to deliver for them … Labour will give Britain its future back.”

Egan used his victory speech to thank voters, saying: “Fourteen years of Conservative government have sucked the hope out of our country. There’s a feeling that no matter how hard you work, you just can’t move forward, and with Rishi’s recession we are left once again paying more and getting less.”

Asked if he had been worried that the turmoil in Labour this week could have put the result in jeopardy, he said candidates worried about everything, including the heavy rain that fell on voting day.

He said Labour’s troubles had not come up on the doorstep. “The things that our residents are telling us are the things that Keir and the Labour party have been talking about – the NHS, cost of living crisis, community policing. Kingswood feels neglected after 14 years of Conservative government.”

The defeated Conservative candidate, Sam Bromiley, left the count as soon as Egan had finished speaking, declining to comment to reporters.

North East Somerset Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was left to speak to reporters. He pointed out that if you add together the Reform UK and Conservative vote it is more than Labour’s. “If we can reunite the right in politics there’s a real opportunity for us,” he said.

Rees-Mogg also highlighted the poor turnout of 37.1%. “If you’re a Tory and you stay at home, Rishi Sunak will still be prime minister in the morning,” he said. “I certainly thought this result would be worse. Bear in mind a lot of the postal votes would have been back before Labour’s problem with antisemitism was in the public.”

The byelection was called after Chris Skidmore, a leading Tory voice on green issues, resigned in protest against the government’s dash for oil and gas.

Over the last half century, Kingswood has swung between the Tories and Labour. Skidmore won the seat in 2010 and had built up an 11,220 majority by 2019.

As the constituency is abolished at the next general election, Kingswood voters will be divided among four constituencies. Egan had previously been selected as the candidate for one of these, Bristol North East, a key Labour target.

After Skidmore stepped down, Egan resigned from his Lewisham job and headed to South Gloucestershire to fight for Kingswood. Labour poured MPs and activists into the area behind him, seeing it as a way of maintaining the impetus of its push for Downing Street and as an important test of its hopes of challenging the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in south-west England.

Egan, who was raised in Kingswood, a constituency on the edge of Bristol with a mixture of suburbs, housing estates and villages, said he had been shocked by the decline of the area under the Tories when be began banging on doors in the constituency. He said some of the streets were “filthy” and that it was difficult to see a doctor or dentist. The point was made by images of people queueing to register for an NHS dentist in Bristol.

The fatal stabbing of Mason Rist, 15, and Max Dixon, 16, in the Knowle West area of Bristol happened during the campaign. Egan said there needed to be more police on the streets, and during a campaign visit by Keir Starmer to Egan’s old school, Hanham Woods academy, Starmer said the Tories had lost control over knife crime.

The Conservatives’ main line seemed to be that their candidate, who leads the party’s group on South Gloucestershire council, was the only real local person standing. One Tory councillor described Egan as the “lad from Lewisham”.

Bromiley previously said his experience as a youth worker would help him tackle crime among young people, promised to stop the Labour-led local council from “hacking into the greenbelt” and said he would work to regenerate the high street.

John Curtice, professor of practice, politics, at Strathclyde University, told the BBC: “Clearly a bad result for the Conservatives, but it’s not quite the big success for Labour on quite the scale that perhaps Sir Keir is trying to claim.”

Richard Jobson, a lecturer in 20th-century British history at the University of Exeter and an expert on the Labour party, said the Labour win was not a surprise.

He said: “The soon to be defunct Kingswood constituency has often been held up as an accurate barometer of the wider public’s mood. Despite a distant industrial past, the area now contains a significant number of the type of suburban voters who flocked to New Labour in droves in 1997. In public, Labour have adopted a routinely cautious tone. In private, I expect that they will have not been countenancing anything short of gaining the seat.”

Labour’s wins in Kingswood and Wellingborough means the Conservatives have now lost 10 byelections in the course of this parliament – two more than the eight defeats suffered by the 1992-97 Conservative administration led by John Major. It means the Conservative government has lost more byelections in a single parliament than any government since the 1960s.

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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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