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16 December 2022

Labour’s triumph in the Stretford by-election shows the Tories will need a miracle to win

Keir Starmer’s party victory was consistent with its national poll lead of around 20 points.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Labour has comfortably held the constituency of Stretford and Urmston following a by-election yesterday. Andrew Western, the leader of Trafford Council, won 69.6 per cent of the vote and a 9,906 majority.

It is no big surprise. Keir Starmer’s party has represented the Greater Manchester seat since it was created in 1997. Labour recorded an 11 per cent swing from the Tories, who won just 15.9 per cent of the vote.

It is less than the 14 per cent swing Labour recorded in the Chester by-election earlier this month, but given the party already had 60 per cent of the vote in Stretford and Urmston, there was little room to make further progress.

[See also: The government’s concession on childcare shows how much the issue matters to voters]

John Curtice, a political scientist and pollster, told Radio 4 this morning that the result is consistent with Labour’s relatively stable national lead of 20 points, which is comparable to what Tony Blair had in the run-up to the 1997 election.

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Curtice also pointed out that Britain is in “unchartered territory” in terms of predicting who will win the next general election; during the 1992-97 parliament, John Major stayed in No 10 in the aftermath of Black Wednesday, whereas following Liz Truss‘s disastrous mini-Budget the Conservatives changed leader and installed Rishi Sunak.

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And while as a party Labour has a lead on economic competence, Sunak, as an individual politician, is more trusted on the economy than Starmer. Curtice said: “The question is, can [Sunak] in the very difficult economic circumstances the government now face – much more difficult economic circumstances than the Conservatives faced after Black Wednesday – have any chance of turning things around?”

[See also: Rishi Sunak has been left looking complacent on strikes]

Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said yesterday that he could see the “first glimmer” that inflation was beginning to ease after November’s drop in the Consumer Prices Index, to 10.7 per cent from 11.1 per cent in October. The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, however, has warned that the economic picture will get worse before it gets better. Last month he confirmed that the UK had entered into a recession.

Given the latest date that a general election could be held is January 2025, there may be time for the polls to close. But amid strikes, backbench rebellions and Labour unity, it still looks like Sunak will need a miracle to pull off a victory.