By-elections showed the Tories are toast and the SNP will be next to face the judgment of the ballot box – Jackie Baillie
With everyone claiming to have something to celebrate, there ought to be political lessons for all from last week’s three by-elections. Labour’s victory in Selby and Ainsty, overturning a 20,000 majority in a traditionally Conservative stronghold, shows change is coming.
The remarkable win by Keir Mather sends a message that no Tory or SNP seat is safe from that desire for change and Labour’s UK-wide resurgence. The swing to Labour in the constituency was 23.7 per cent, double what is needed to form a majority at a general election. There’s no getting away from the fact that the Tories are heading for the exit.
Of course, I’d say you cannot get enough Keirs into parliament and the rather patronising dismissal by Tory maverick Johnny Mercer MP of Labour’s 25-year-old winner showed just how much denial the Tories are in about the situation. What should be remarkable for Mr Mercer is how the solid voters of Yorkshire turned against the Tories to back our youthful candidate. If anything, it shows how much of a hole the Tories are in.
The late Charles Kennedy was only 23 when he entered parliament and went on to become one of the leading politicians of his generation. Sir Ed Davey is no Charles Kennedy but tactical voting on a massive scale helped the Lib Dems to victory in Somerset and Froome where the Labour vote fell to two per cent. There was no deal, but people can work out exactly how to vote when the imperative is to put an incompetent government out of its misery.
That has lessons for the Conservative and nationalist governments and reinforces the message that nowhere is safe for the Tories and the SNP after they messed up the economy in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. The imperative to get the Tories out was evident in Uxbridge where we fell short by the tightest of margins. However, a miss is as good as a mile in politics.
The Tories tried to spin dismal failure into victory by turning the Uxbridge by-election into a referendum on the plans to extend the £12.50-a-day, ultra-low emission zone to the whole of Greater London. The danger now is that the Tories weaponise environmental policies on which there should be a cross-party consensus. As Rhodes is aflame and we record historically high temperatures in our own islands, the response is not to reverse green commitments.
However, we must make sure we frame the green transition’s benefits and job-creating advantages instead of focusing on bans or strictures on carbon jobs. It is only Labour that has a plan for this country. We’ll be spelling that out in Rutherglen and Hamilton, the next likely by-election, where the recall petition on Margaret Ferrier is still open and the SNP look on in fear.
I don’t underestimate what we have to do but results like Selby show what is possible and Uxbridge shows what remains to be done. We need to win 80 more Selbys to become the largest party and nearly 150 seats to have a Commons majority. The task is challenging and Labour is getting to work to gain the trust and support of working people to deliver the change the country is crying out for.
Jackie Baillie MSP is Scottish Labour’s deputy leader
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