Kingswood By-Election Odds: Labour expected to gain bellwether marginal

UK ballot box
Recent by-elections have almost all been disastrous for the Tories

Kingswood hasn't voted Labour since they last won a general election but they are overwhelming favourites for Thursday's by-election. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview...

  • Bellwether seat can send strong signal

  • Tory optimists see Uxbridge parallels

  • Labour to win by double-digits

  • Of the two by-elections scheduled for Thursday, Kingswood is the one rated likelier to switch from Conservative to Labour. Odds of 1.051/20 represent a 95% chance of Labour winning here, compared to 92% of them winning Wellingborough - check the preview of that race here.

    Thus, anything less than two victories will be regarded as bad news for Keir Starmer. But assuming they land the odds in both, the focus will turn to the scale of Tory defeat and Rishi Sunak's position.

    Recent by-elections point to Labour

    The numbers are clearly within Labour's range considering the national position - which has proved a decent guide to predicting most recent by-election tallies.

    They need a 12% swing to win, and are gaining around 16% nationally, but generally overperforming that in by-elections, in which they almost inevitably benefit from differential turnout. Their swings in Tamworth and Selby and Ainsty were 24%. In Mid-Bedfordshire it was 20%.

    Only Uxbridge and South Ruislip was different. There a 6.7% was not enough to overturn a Tory majority. In the wake of that singular piece of good electoral news for the Tories, the Westminster Village went berserk. It was taken as red that the result was due to anti-ULEZ campaigning and Sunak duly abandoned any attempt to burnish his green credentials.

    Does Uxbridge offer a guide?

    Those events indirectly led to this by-election. MP Chris Skidmore resigned in protest at the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill and Sunak's reneging on commitment to Net Zero policies.

    I have heard chatter - and it does not deserve to be credited any deeper - that this race could have similarities with Uxbridge. That this is a commuter seat and there are plenty of angry drivers, and a possible backlash against Labour.

    There are other similarities. Both voted to Leave in the EU Referendum by a 58-42% margin. In both, 60% are ABC1 class. They are ranked similarly in the ElectoralCalculus indicators for Social Conservative - Kingswood 262nd to Uxbridge 301st.

    Tories faring better locally

    Another important indicator of the Uxbridge result was how dominant the Tories had been in local elections. They also retained the most seats on South Gloucestershire Council, if losing their majority, in 2023. Compared to an otherwise horrific night, this was a decent result. Their leader on the council, Sam Bromley, is the candidate here.

    I wouldn't overstretch the comparisons, though. As I wrote at the time, a lot of assumptions were made about Uxbridge, based on Labour's performance across London. Even as they thrived in recent elections, Uxbridge stayed solid Tory.

    Furthermore, the reaction regarding ULEZ was a mixture of wishful thinking and those lobbying against Net Zero seizing the narrative. Rarely noted was that 13% of voters in that constituency are Hindu, highly likely to support our first Hindu Prime Minister. For me, that was as decisive a reason for the upset, combined with generally strong support for the party locally.

    Labour have history here

    In contrast, Kingswood looks every inch a bellwether marginal seat. In those council elections, the important wards were closely contested between Labour and Tory. This is a constituency which voted for huge Labour majorities between 1992-2005. If the country is switching away from the Tories, one would expect this to go in any election. This is an easier target than either Selby and Ainsty, or Tamworth.

    Kingswood won't even be a constituency at the next election, which somewhat adds a sense of irrelevance. Jacob Rees Mogg will inherit part of it, and has been campaigning, probably to Labour's advantage. Their candidate is local-born Damian Egan, who was previously Mayor of Lewisham. He seems to have been strongly approved by the leadership, as he usurped Bristol Mayor Mervyn Rees to be candidate for the successor seat.

    Whatever the contest, we are seeing a ruinous reluctance from 2019 Tory voters to turn out for them. I can't see why that won't be the case again here. The swing may not be as extreme as elsewhere for a few reasons.

    Labour have slightly less room to grow from rock-bottom in seats like Wellingborough and Tamworth. The Tory candidate hasn't resigned due to a scandal. It is far less fertile territory for a right-wing backlash from Reform. Our market on their Vote Share rates 15% or Higher unlikely at odds around 5.04/1

    My prediction - Lab 51%, Con 37%, Others 12%.

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