Tory vote collapse in West Lancashire by-election confirms Labour poll lead is no mirage

The West Lancashire by-election is the latest confirmation that Labour’s commanding lead in the nationwide opinion polls is no mirage.

Hugo Gye 

There was no realistic prospect of the Conservatives winning this seat, which stayed Labour even in the 2019 general election when so much of the “Red Wall” fell to a Tory takeover.

But the huge majority for new MP Ashley Dalton will nonetheless worry Tory strategists. She took 62 per cent of the vote with her Conservative challenger on 25 per cent: the swing of a little of 10 per cent compared to the 2019 result roughly mirrors the national polling picture, and if replicated at the next general election would lead to a landslide victory for Sir Keir Starmer.

The result in the seat is even better for Labour than it was in the 1997 election, when Tony Blair’s party swept to the largest win of any postwar vote. Even allowing for the usual trend of governing parties doing badly in by-elections, that is an ominous sign, and a turnaround from the heady days of 2021 when the Tories under Boris Johnson repeatedly challenged Labour in its own heartlands.

There is one small consolation for Rishi Sunak: Reform UK, the latest incarnation of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, made no real impact in West Lancashire, taking less than 5 per cent of the vote. Fears that the Prime Minister might find his right flank seriously exposed have not yet materialised.

Mr Sunak has steadied the Tory ship this week, delighting many MPs with the relative success of his reshuffle and his meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky. But this by-election is a reminder that Sir Keir remains firmly in the driving seat.