Witney By-Election Result and Analysis

The Witney by-election has resulted in the election of a Conservative. Nationally this does not change anything because the Conservatives have the same number of seats that they won in the 2015 general election. The full results and an analysis follow.

Witney By-Election Result

Conservative, Robert Courts, 17,313 (45.0%)
Liberal Democrat, Liz Leffma, 11,611 (30.2%)
Labour, Duncan Enright, 5,765 (15.0%)
Green, Larry Sanders, 1,363 (3.5%)
UKIP, Dickie Bird, 1,354 (3.5%)
National Health Action, Helen Salisbury, 433 (1.1%)
Independent, Daniel Skidmore, 151 (0.4%)
Monster Raving Loony, Mad Hatter, 129 (0.3%)
Independent, Nicholas Ward, 93 (0.2%)
Bus-Pass Elvis Party, David Bishop, 61 (0.2%)
Eccentric Party, Lord Toby Jug, 59 (0.2%)
English Democrats, Winston McKenzie, 52 (0.1%)
One Love Party, Emilia Arno, 44 (0.1%)
Independent, Adam Knight, 27 (0.1%).

Majority: 5,702 (14.8%)
Turnout: 38,455 (46.8%).

Conservatives

Traditionally Witney is an extremely safe Conservative seat. In this by-election their vote share went down some 15 percentage points from 60% to 45%. Governing parties almost always perform badly in by-elections but recover in the next general election. For example, in the Newark by-election of 2014 the Conservatives lost 9 percentage points on 2010 but in the 2015 general election they gained 3 percentage points on 2010. Similar drops and recoveries happened in both Rochester and Strood and Clacton. Historically speaking, the Conservative vote share dropped more this time than in Newark and Rochester and Strood, but less than in Clacton.

Liberal Democrats

While the Conservatives will be pleased to have held Witney and preserved their majority, the real story is the Liberal Democrats. It is well known that the Liberal Democrats heavily targeted Witney. Lots of activists, leaflets, etc. And their hard work has paid off. They increased their share of the vote from 7% to 30% and achieved a swing from the Conservatives of 19%. This is the first by-election this parliament in which the Liberal Democrats have showed any sign of recovery.

It is entirely possible that the Liberal Democrats will replace UKIP as the party of protest in by-elections. Of course, we cannot be certain at this stage so we will have to wait until a few more by-elections crop up. We may even see the Liberal Democrats doing well in by-elections in richer middle class seats and UKIP doing well in poorer working class seats.

Labour

Labour stagnated. Their share of the vote went down 2 percentage points to 15%. I had expected more of their vote to go tactically to the Liberal Democrats, but that did not happen. Three possible explanations are as follows:

1. Labour voters would rather vote Labour out of principle than vote Liberal Democrat tactically
2. The Liberal Democrats may still be considered too Conservative friendly for Labour voters
3. Some people may have voted Labour under the (incorrect) assumption that Labour had the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.

Green Party

The Green Party had a poor performance, dropping back 1.5 percentage points to 3.5% and losing their deposit. They did beat UKIP though, if that is any consolation, although only by 9 votes.

UKIP

UKIP also had a poor performance. They came fifth with 3.5%, down from 9.2% in the 2015 general election. They also lost their deposit. As to why this happened we cannot be sure. Some possible reasons are as follows:

1. The Conservatives hoovered up UKIP votes after the referendum
2. UKIP has achieved its central aim of getting Britain to leave the European Union
3. UKIP has no leader yet
4. UKIP did not do much campaigning.

What if this happened in a general election?

Just for fun, let us assume that the vote share changes in this by-election were reflected across the country using the swingometer on the current boundaries.

The Conservatives would lose 116 seats with the Liberal Democrats being the main beneficiaries, gaining 72 seats. Labour would gain a net 51 seats by virtue of the Conservatives falling back substantially. UKIP would win a second seat and the Green Party would hold on to their single seat of Brighton Pavilion. The Conservatives would easily be out of office. Not even the Liberal Democrats could save them this time. Labour would be in government but without a majority. They could have a coalition with either the Liberal Democrats or the SNP.

Of course this more than likely would not happen because by-elections always produce these quirky results. Besides, if there were a general election tomorrow the polls suggest that the Conservatives would win by a landslide.
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