Blackpool byelection shows Labour is back in Brexit-voting areas (2024)

For the fifth time since the start of 2023, Keir Starmer woke up on Friday morning to a byelection result that indicates he will be prime minister by the end of the year.

The Labour leader called the result in Blackpool South, where the party’s candidate, Chris Webb, won with a swing of 26%, “seismic” and “historic”. Polling experts point out that even Tony Blair did not secure such a sustained series of strong byelection results in the run-up to his landslide election victory in 1997.

Early results from both Blackpool and local elections across England are further evidence that the national polls are correct: Labour is well ahead of the Conservatives, having clawed its way back in leave-voting areas it lost in 2019.

And while there are areas of concern for Labour, which is losing ground in areas with high Muslim populations and may fail to win the two mayoralties in the Tees Valley and West Midlands, the overall picture shows the party heading for a sizeable Westminster majority.

John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, told the BBC on Friday morning the results were “not far short” of catastrophic for the Tories. “They’re basically losing a half the seats they’re trying to defend,” he added. “If that continues, they may end up losing 500 seats, which was the thing they were meant to avoid.”

One of the most symbolic victories for Labour on Thursday night came in Hartlepool, where the party dramatically lost a byelection in 2021 – a result that nearly prompted Starmer’s exit as Labour leader.

Since then, Starmer has prioritised winning votes in leave-voting “red-wall” areas, a strategy that allowed it to gain control of the local council on Friday morning. Analysis by Sky News of early results from Thursday night shows the Tories losing most votes in areas that voted for Brexit.

That strategy means Labour’s votes are now spread more efficiently across the country, allowing it to win far more seats even with the same number of votes.

Chris Hopkins, the political research director at the pollster Savanta, said: “The vote share for the Conservatives isn’t all that bad relatively, given their national opinion polling position, but it has translated into above-average seat losses.”

Graph showing vote share in Blackpool South

Underneath the headlines, however, there are some signs of concern for Starmer and potential relief for Rishi Sunak.

Labour unexpectedly lost control of the council in Oldham after several of its councillors quit the party over its stance in Gaza. The party lost several council seats to independents, surrendering the council to no overall control. It also failed to gain Harlow, which Starmer had visited just a day before the election.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s campaign chief, admitted on Friday the Oldham result had been fuelled by the party’s response to the crisis in the Middle East, where supporters believe it was slow to call for a ceasefire and too cautious of criticising Israel.

“I do think that’s been a factor in some places, I don’t think there’s any point in denying that,” McFadden told the BBC. “It does get raised, and I understand why people have strong feelings about that.”

Some in the party worry that events in Gaza will help split the progressive vote at the general election, causing potential losses in Bristol Central and Sheffield Hallam and stopping the party gaining a number of target seats in the north-west.

However, the rightwing vote appears to be more split, with Reform nearly overtaking the Tories into second place in Blackpool South. Hopkins said: “We’ve seen Reform UK achieving vote shares that, if transferred to the Conservatives, would have resulted in far fewer losses.”

Results on Friday morning showed the Conservatives heading for as many as 500 council seat losses – at the upper end of pre-election estimates. Those losses are likely to increase pressure on the prime minister, who has failed to recover any ground on Labour since taking over from Liz Truss in 2022.

Sunak is hoping for some relief over the weekend from results in the Tees Valley and West Midlands, where the Conservative mayors, Ben Houchen and Andy Street, are hoping to hold on to power.

If the party loses both, Sunak is likely to face a leadership challenge as soon as next week. If he wins either, it could take a few more months to oust him from Downing Street.

Blackpool byelection shows Labour is back in Brexit-voting areas (2024)


Is Blackpool conservative or labour? ›

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People aged 50-59 make up 15.1% of Blackpool's population (13.5% nationally). 21.9% of Blackpool's population is aged under 20 (23.1% nationally), and 10.1% are aged 75 and above (9% nationally). Overall, there are significantly more people aged over 50 in Blackpool (42.9%) than is seen nationally (38.1%).

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Blackpool is a well known Lancashire coastal resort. In geographic terms it is by far the smallest Lancashire authority covering just 35 square kilometres, has 21 wards for which Census 2021 profiles are available.

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Blackpool is a seaside resort town in Lancashire, England. It is located on the Irish Sea coast of the Fylde peninsula, approximately 27 miles (43 km) north of Liverpool and 14 miles (23 km) west of Preston. It is the main settlement in the borough of the same name.

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94.7% of the Blackpool population identified as 'white', compared to 85.6% in the North West and 81% in England (Figure 1). 5.3% of the Blackpool population are therefore considered to be in ethnic minority groups other than white, compared to 14.4% in the North West and 19% in England.

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