The Wakefield by-election raises vital questions about the future of the Conservative Party

Editorial: The Tories are expecting a truly crushing defeat on Thursday, and should that come to pass, they will have to have the courage to ask themselves who they are as a party

Sunday 19 June 2022 21:30
<p>On Thursday, they may find the red wall looking worryingly rebuilt </p>

On Thursday, they may find the red wall looking worryingly rebuilt

At any point before one minute past 10 on 12 December 2019, the idea of describing a Tory by-election defeat in Wakefield as a disaster would have been absurd. It is still more shocking that they won it in the first place than it will be when they (almost certainly) lose it on Thursday. What will be more shocking still is that, as things stand, they are also expected to lose Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats. That would mark the biggest ever majority lost at a by-election, in a seat that was considered to be unloseable.

Even so, losing Wakefield is likely to worry Conservatives even more than losing Tiverton. Since the 2016 referendum, and also since Donald Trump’s shock election victory, political scientists in both the UK and the US have liked to talk about the “realignment”. By this they mean that working-class people have embraced right-wing parties and right-wing politics, having been ignored or taken for granted by left and centre-left parties that have become far more interested in niche cultural issues that bear scant relation to their lives.

When Mr Johnson won in 2019, he said several times that he had been granted the power to govern through votes that had been “borrowed” from Labour, and that he would do everything he could to hold on to them. For people who believe in this idea of a realignment, the nature of the 2019 victory showed how far down that path the country had already gone.

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