‘Partygate’ impacts on local by-elections

It was all going reasonably smoothly for local Conservative candidates.

At the end of November, they recorded three gains – two from Labour (one by the margin of eight votes) and another from Independent in Wyre Forest. A fourth eluded them when Labour held on by one vote in Wandsworth’s Bedford ward.

Then, on 30 November, the Daily Mirror reported a party being held in Downing Street in December 2020, despite the Prime Minister banning such events in the capital only days before.

Following this revelation, the Conservatives lost four of the six council seats they were defending two days later. 

Liberal Democrats seized two seats in Lancaster, with the Greens and Labour winning in Wealden and Worthing respectively.

Against the run of play, there was a Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat in North Norfolk, with candidate Matthew Taylor emerging a surprise winner. 

Simultaneously, in the Old Bexley and Sidcup parliamentary by-election, the Conservative majority was cut to 4,000. There, the turnout of 33.5 per cent was the second lowest for a Conservative seat since the war.

Matters went from bad to worse. A widely circulated video of a mock interview showed Downing Street officials at the time joking about the alleged party.

This resulted in the resignation on 8 December of Allegra Stratton, the former 10 Downing Street press secretary and COP26 spokesperson.

The following day, the Conservatives lost five of six seats they were defending. In Rotherham, two seats went to Liberal Democrat and Labour.

In Tonbridge and Malling, the Conservatives held one seat but lost two others, including another defeat to the Greens.

‘Partygate’, as it become known, then competed with news that the Electoral Commission was fining the Conservative party for not reporting donations used for refurbishment work in Downing Street.

On 16 December, the Conservatives lost four of six council seats. There was another defeat to the Greens in Ashford, making it three in less than a month. 

The remaining losses were all to the Liberal Democrats, although these results had to share second billing when the party captured the North Shropshire constituency in spectacular style.

Twenty-three seats, more than half of the 40 pre-Christmas by-elections, changed hands.  The Conservatives show a net loss of nine seats, the Liberal Democrats and Greens net gains of six and three respectively.

Conservative fortunes have plummeted. Liberal Democrat appeals to voters will gain traction, putting many Conservative council seats in jeopardy. With the Greens advancing, the Conservatives face a two-pronged attack. 

The one crumb of comfort is that Labour, which is the principal opponent nationally, is not regarded as a natural choice for local protest voters. Were that position to alter, the months ahead would look distinctly gloomy for Conservatives.

local by-elections
Adur, Hillside
CON HELD
32.4% over Green
Turnout 21.9%
Allerdale, Maryport South
LAB GAIN FROM IND
24% over Ind
Turnout 17%
Ashford, Highfield
GREEN GAIN FROM CON
5.9% over Con
Turnout 23.5%
Basildon, Lee Chapel North
LAB HELD
4.9% over Con
Turnout 11.2%
Bracknell Forest, Old Bracknell
LAB GAIN FROM CON
22.3% over Con
Turnout 17%
Breckland, Hermitage
CON HELD
4.1% over Lib Dem
Turnout 23.4%
Bridgend, Caerau
IND GAIN FROM LAB
7% over Lab
Turnout 22.3%
Halton, Halton Castle
LAB HELD
41.4% over Green
Turnout 12.5%
Horsham, Roffey South
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
11.4% over Con
Turnout 22.4%
Lancaster, Bare
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
9.8% over Green
Turnout 23.5%
Lancaster, Carnforth and Millhead
LAB HELD
23.9% over Con
Turnout 20.1%
Lancaster, Upper Lune Valley
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
33.5% over Con
Turnout 31.7%
Lichfield, Armitage With Handsacre
CON HELD
20.7% over Lab
Turnout 12.4%
Medway, Rochester East
LAB HELD
35.1% over Con
Turnout 18.7%
Middlesbrough, North Ormesby
LAB GAIN FROM IND
60.6% over Ind
Turnout 13.3%
Northumberland, Hexham East
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
17.3% over Con
Turnout 35.1%
Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Knutton
CON GAIN FROM LAB
2.2% over Lab
Turnout 18.3%
Newport, Victoria
LAB HELD
38.6% over LIB DEM
Turnout 20.3%
North Norfolk, Stalham
CON GAIN FROM LIB DEM
18.2% over Lib Dem
Turnout 22.5%
Nuneaton & Bedworth , Bar Pool
CON GAIN FROM LAB
31.9% over Lab
Turnout 17.4%
Rotherham, Anston and Woodsetts
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
12.5% over Con
Turnout 28%
Rotherham, Aughton and Swallownest
LAB GAIN FROM CON
11.5% over Con
Turnout 19.9%
Telford & Wrekin, Dawley & Aqueduct
LAB HELD
14.6% over Lab
Turnout 26.3%
Tonbridge and Malling, Castle
GREEN GAIN FROM CON
22.5% over Con
Turnout 34.4%
Tonbridge and Malling, Kings Hill
CON HELD
34% over Ind
Turnout 18.6%
Tonbridge and Malling, West Malling and Leybourne
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
9.7% over Con
Turnout 27.5%
Torridge, Northam
CON GAIN FROM IND
15.6% over Lib Dem
Turnout 24.5%
Tunbridge Wells, Speldhurst & Bidborough
TW ALLIANCE GAIN FROM CON
3.7% over Con
Turnout 34.7%
Walsall, Pleck
LAB HELD
29.3% over Con
Turnout 11.3%
Wandsworth, Bedford
LAB HELD
0.0% over Con [corr]
Turnout 21.7%
Warwick, Whitnash
RES HELD
26.7 over Lab
Turnout 20.6%
Wealden, Hartfield
GREEN GAIN FROM CON
12.3% over Con
Turnout 36.6%
West Berkshire, Tilehurst South and Holybrook
CON HELD
12.4% over Lab
Turnout 23%
West Lindsey, Nettleham
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
18.4% over Con
Turnout 32.2%
West Suffolk, Horringer
CON HELD
9.8% over Lab
Turnout 26.4%
Wigan, Bryn
LAB GAIN FROM IND
1.2% over Ind
Turnout 15.3%
Wirral, Oxton
LIB DEM HELD
49.4% over Lab
Turnout 23%
Worthing, Marine
LAB GAIN FROM CON
10.8% over Con
Turnout 37.4%
Wyre Forest, Franche and Habberley
CON GAIN FROM IND (ICHC)
13.9% over Lab
Turnout 18.3%

See our excel spreadsheet for more details of the results listed and other recent by-election results

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