The recent two by-election defeats for the governing party and their implications for law and policy

2nd July 2021

This is not a party partisan blog and there are good and bad in all mainstream parties (though some parties have more good than others).

But it is a liberal constitutionalist blog, and so the two recent defeats for the governing party are a good thing: the politics of inclusion and solidarity seem (just about) to have defeated the politics of exclusion and division.

The fragile coalition that bought the current government to power in December 2019 – in effect, to ‘get Brexit done’ and to ensure that the then leader of the opposition did not become prime minister – may turn out to be unsustainable.

So what?

This is of interest to those with strong feelings about party politics – but are there any implications for law and policy, from a non-partisan perspective?


One of the features of the illiberalism of the current government seems to be a belief that constitutional and cultural conflict ‘play well’.

So you have the sight of infantile government ministers picking fights and attempting to provoke ‘culture wars’.

And you have the loud trumpeting of attempts to further dislocate constitutional arrangements – with the executive seeking to undermine the checks and balances provided by the courts, the legislature, the impartial  civil service and diplomatic corps, and so.

Each attack intended to impress and mobilise the minority electoral base that is believed to be sufficient to keep this illiberal government in power.


But it seems not to be working any more.

The lever may have come loose.

If this is the case – if – then there are two possible things that may happen: bad and good.

The bad thing would be that government ministers and their supporters want more illiberalism!

More division and exclusion!

More constitutional conflict and culture war!

Or, a good thing: government ministers and their supporters may come to their senses as they realise the diminishing political returns for their illiberal (and vile) confrontational politics.

Any sensible person would hope for the latter.

But nobody who has followed politics since 2016 could be confident that such a welcome development will occur.

So it all could get worse.

Brace, brace.


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6 thoughts on “The recent two by-election defeats for the governing party and their implications for law and policy”

  1. By elections are one offs. Never useful as guide to GE. Look at the trend of national polls. Tory lead has narrowed to….9%. Nothing to get excited about. If however they get COVID control wrong again, if the post furlough economy looks grim for many, if the impact of Brexit affects daily lives……

    And if Starmer can convince us he stands for something

  2. Johnson has no actual principles beyond self preservation. So it could be that he will start to tone things back.

    But I’m not sure quite how he would do that. Especially as a chunk of the illiberal policies are keeping him out of trouble.

    Can we really see him taking to the nation saying how shocked he was to discover that some members of his cabinet had been telling fibs.

  3. Batley & Spen is a small constituency far away about which we know little. And I expect it will stay that way. I am no fan of this government but much ado about very little IMHO.

    This government did not get its way at B&S and the implied question is ‘is the government on a glide path to destruction’? To me it looks as if this glide path will be a long one. Given Covid and Brexit and global economics the attitude of her Majesty’s Opposition might well be ‘give a fool enough rope…’.

    The question is how much damage will be done as our government thrashes around looking for a return to normality let alone the promised sunny uplands and unicorns. Possibly a few sacred cows will be led to slaughter but in the end economic reality will surely win. Given enough time even Labour might develop some sort of maturity. Break out the popcorn, this will be a long movie.

  4. The government is in too deep to backtrack. It’s the Trump organisation and legal case in NY thread that you tweeted today. Similar characteristics (secrecy and double dealing) and characters are in play.

  5. I hope that the tide for easy nationalism, thoughtless jingoism and Brussels bashing for all ills (from the weather to the footie) may have turned.
    Ultimately, Johnson will alienate the capable who drive the nation forward; it won’t end well. When (if, under the clown cakistocracy) the pandemic abates, the harm that Brexit is doing the economy, the nation’s reputation and its impact on ordinary people’s lives, the folly of it will be inescapable. Eventually, this must foment a civil war within the Tory party between the saner, traditionalists and the rabid, Britannia Unchained, Brexiteer zealots, if for no other reasons than their financial backers will be going. Perhaps this is being reflected in the latest by-elections. When the pandemic abates, Starmer will have much more freedom of movement to attack the government – especially so if Brexit is seen to unwind and to have gulled Labour voters.

  6. I see James Forsyth, in The Times, has pitched an idea for even more power for Number 10. The executive thirst for total control goes on. Given his connections to 10 Downing Street, this must be how they are thinking. Johnson already has too much control over parliament, and i s trying to constrain the courts.

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