Key records in previous by-elections as polls close in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton

Conservatives last lost two by-elections on the same day in 1991

Vote counting is underway in two key by-elections, including the “red wall” seat of Wakefield and the Tory stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are on the defensive in both seats, with Sir Keir Starmer hoping to achieve a comeback in Wakefield, and the Liberal Democrats under Sir Ed Davey aiming for a major political upset in Tiverton and Honiton.

While two by-elections taking place on the same day is fairly common, if the Tories lose both it will only be the seventh time a government has suffered a double defeat since the Second World War. It last happened 30 years ago in 1991 when Sir John Major was in No 10.

Here The Independent looks at other by-election records and what figures to look out for after the results from Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton come in.

Tiverton and Honiton

Victory for the Liberal Democrats in the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honiton would require overturning an enormous Conservative majority of 24,239.

The current record for the biggest majority overturned at a by-election is currently held by Liverpool Wavertree – way back in 1935, when Labour overturned a Tory majority of 23,972.

If the Lib Dems pull off a victory on Thursday, they would steal the record. This of course would be in terms of raw voting numbers, rather than percentage swing, which is used as a sign of shifting support.

The biggest by-election swing against a government in the last 30 years occurred in Christchurch in July 1993, with a 35.4 percentage point swing to the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives.

In second place is Sir Ed Davey’s party’s victory in the North Shropshire by-election in December 2021, where the Lib Dems defeated the Tories’ candidate with a 34.1pp swing.

To win Tiverton and Honiton, the Lib Dems require a swing of just over 22pp. If the party manages a swing in Tiverton & Honiton of more than 25.4 points, it would rank as one of the 10 largest swings against a government since 1945 in a by-election which saw a change in both party and MP.

Wakefield

In terms of by-election records, the main focus for Labour will be ending a 10-year spell of failing to gain a seat during a by-election.

If Sir Keir Starmer seizes back the Yorkshire constituency of Wakefield — held continuously by Labour from 1932 until the 2019 election — it will be the party’s first by-election gain since Corby in 2012 when Ed Miliband was leader.

At the time, Labour secured a swing of 12.6%, with Mr Miliband proclaiming it was a sign “Middle England is turning away from David Cameron and the Conservatives”. Just three years later the constituency returned to the Tories.

Before the Corby by-election, Labour had not overturned a Tory majority since February 1997 — just months before Tony Blair’s landslide election win — with a swing of 17.2 per cent.

Additional reporting by PA Media

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