3:55pm The Lib Dems have GAINED North Shropshire by more than a 15% margin over the Conservatives. This will be very bad for Johnson’s standing among Conservative MPs, but it was hardly a good result for Labour; their vote was down over 12% from 2019.
Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
A UK parliamentary by-election will occur in Conservative-held North Shropshire, with polls closing at 9am AEDT Friday. This seat has voted Conservative at every election since the 1830s, and voted Leave at the 2016 Brexit referendum by 60-40. In 2019, the Conservatives won by 63-22 over Labour with 10% for the Liberal Democrats. Despite finishing third, the Lib Dems are seen as bigger threats in the by-election.
Local MP Owen Paterson resigned in early November after it was found he breached paid advocacy rules by working for two companies. The Conservative government initially protected him by overruling the independent commission, but was forced into a u-turn by a public backlash. The initial protection was a blunder as it drew attention to other shady practices by Conservative MPs.
The 2020 Downing Street Christmas party, held during lockdown, has further damaged the Conservatives. Even normally pro-Conservative newspapers savaged Boris Johnson. An Opinium poll had Johnson’s net approval crashing 14 points to -35, from what was already a record low approval in late November, and 57% said he should resign.
From January, the Conservatives held a significant lead, but fell into a tie with Labour after the Paterson fiasco. The Christmas party scandal has given Labour a high single-digit lead, with ten polls in the last week having Labour ahead by 4-9 points. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK is up to 7% in two polls owing to opposition to vaccine mandates.
A by-election was held in Old Bexley last fortnight, with the Conservatives retaining by a 51.5-30.9 margin over Labour, down from 64.5-23.5 in 2019. 99 Conservative MPs rebelled against vaccine mandates for entry to large venues in a Commons vote Tuesday, and it was only carried with Labour support. Left-wing Labour MPs and the Lib Dems were also opposed.
US: Democrats make legislative progress, but Biden’s ratings still poor
Shortly after Democrats’ dire performance in the November 2 Virginia and New Jersey elections, the US House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIB) by 228-206, with 13 Republicans supporting while six left-wing Democrats were opposed owing to decoupling from the Democratic infrastructure bill (DIB). The BIB had already passed the Senate, so it became law with Joe Biden’s signature.
Later in November, the House passed the DIB, and this can pass the Senate with a simple majority using “reconciliation”. While Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are concerns for their party in a 50-50 Senate, it’s likely the DIB will pass by early next year. Congress has also averted an early December government shutdown and a mid-December debt limit default.
Biden’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate have improved slightly in the last fortnight to 50.7% disapprove, 43.3% approve (net -7.4). His ratings are poor owing to US inflation, which was up 0.8% in November for a 12-month rate of 6.8%, the highest since 1982. As a result, real wages were down 1.9% over the last 12 months.
French, German and New Zealand developments
The first round of the French presidential election will be held April 10 with a runoff between the top two candidates on April 24 in the likely event nobody wins a first round majority. After winning the nomination for the conservative Les Republicains on December 4, Valérie Pécresse has surged in the polls to be just ahead of the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, behind incumbent Emmanuel Macron. In runoff match-ups, Macron easily leads Le Pen, but is barely ahead of Pécresse.
On December 8, more than two months after the September 26 German election, a new government was formed. The government will be a coalition of the centre-left SPD, the Greens and the pro-business FDP, and will have a combined 416 of the 736 parliamentary seats. The conservative CDU/CSU had been a party of government for the previous 16 years under former chancellor Angela Merkel.
A New Zealand Morgan poll, conducted during November, had Labour and the Greens trailing National, ACT and Maori by a combined 47-46.5, the first time Labour plus Greens have trailed since before COVID hit. The right-wing ACT won just 0.5% of the party vote at the 2017 election, but surged to 7.6% in 2020, and was up to a record 17.5% in this poll.