Wellingborough By-Election Odds: Could Reform breakthrough destabilise Rishi Sunak?

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Wellingborough could be Rishi Sunak's lowest point yet

The Wellingborough by-election will prove a low point for Rishi Sunak, says Paul Krishnamurty in his preview of next Thursday's race...

  • Clear parallels with Tamworth defeat

  • Anti-Bone backlash adds to Tory woes

  • Reform set for best result yet

For over two years, the trends in by-elections have been pretty clear. The Tory share crashing to historic lows with voters coalescing behind the party best placed to beat them, whether Labour or Lib Dem. Wellingborough may be slightly more complicated.

Labour expected to win comfortably

The betting signals are very confident about a Labour victory. 92% likely at odds of 1.081/12. An extraordinary situation given they must overturn an 18,450 majority, requiring an 18% swing. This constituency ranks a mere 226th on their target list (around 115 will be required for an Overall Majority, currently rated 81% likely based on Betfair odds of 1.232/9).

Big numbers but very doable on recent evidence. When winning the Tamworth by-election - a harder target on paper than Wellingborough - Labour's swing was 24%. That race looks a very useful guide, given broad similarities between the two electorates.

Both are seats held by New Labour at their peak, but among those where they have fallen furthest since 2010. Wellingborough is slightly less wealthier and more ethnically diverse. Using the indicators from electoralcalculus.co.uk, Wellingborough ranks 93rd for 'Social Conservative' compared to 80th for Tamworth, 156th for 'Economic Right' (vs 196th) , 45th for 'National' (vs 37th).

Tory poll numbers worse than ever

National polls are even worse for the Tories now. Their average deficit from the last ten is 20.1%, compared to 16.8% prior to when losing Tamworth and Mid-Bedfordshire, in what felt like an historic low.

Besides from Uxbridge and South Ruislip - which had rather different dynamics, as explained here when tipping the Tories - it has been the same story in each by-election.

Add in the specific local conditions and there is no reason to think this won't be a repeat. In fact, Wellingborough may be the worst Tory defeat yet, with the worst implications for Rishi Sunak.

Reform's breakthrough moment?

To date, the bank of defecting 2019 CON voters has mostly involved staying at home or voting for LAB/LIB. There has been scant electoral backlash from the Right. ReformUK are frequently posting double-digits in national polls, but it hasn't translated into real votes in a by-election. 5.4% in Tamworth being their best.

Wellingborough presents easily their best opportunity yet. Their national share has risen by half since Tamworth. By selecting Ben Habib - a Question Time and GB News regular - they have become part of this conversation.

This is a right-wing electorate. Even assuming Labour get 50%, that leaves over 40% expected for parties of the Right. Thus the 15% under/over line in our Reform Vote Share market looks a realistic target.

Whilst nowhere near the levels achieved by Farage with UKIP or the Brexit Party, it would send a warning signal and existential threat to the Tories, who need these votes in the general election to avert wipeout.

Bone backlash to create perfect storm

The local conditions are also perfect for protest voting. The by-election was called via a recall petition against Peter Bone MP, over bullying and sexual abuse allegations. His new partner is the Tory candidate - apparently chosen to stop Bone running as an independent.

The Tory offices are described as a shambles and the campaign in tatters. The mood in Wellingborough is described as 'Anything but Bone'. In their recent by-election thrashings to Labour, the Tories have at least managed to win over half their previous vote share. I think they'll do well to get the 31% needed to keep that run going.

Another bad news cycle for Sunak

The talking point coming out will be the scale of Tory loss and their proximity to Reform, who are actually trading at shorter odds to win the seat - 14.013/1 compared to 21.020/1.

Were they to finish ahead of the Tories - a 2.47/5 chance according to our Match Bet market - expect all hell to break loose among the upper Tory echelons.

It all points to a result and narrative which perfectly symbolises the rapid demise of the party. In a place they should always win, the Tories are expecting a beating from Labour and praying Reform don't breakthrough.

If the margin between them is merely close (say single digits), expect another round of panic and talk of Sunak being removed. Despite another absolutely terrible week, Sunak to face a Confidence Vote is available at 5.69/2.

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