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Dismal result for Conservatives and Liberal Democrats advance in Tunbridge Wells


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The votes have been counted and the verdict delivered.

In Kent, the bastion of true-blue Tory heartland - Tunbridge Wells – has provided a symbolic victory for the opposition parties, who are now in a position to hold talks about forming a coalition.

Votes for the 2022 TWBC elections are being counted in the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
Votes for the 2022 TWBC elections are being counted in the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

So is it evidence of a sea change in Kent's politically choppy waters or a few minor ripples? Political Editor Paul Francis reports.

Conservative Party

For the Conservatives, it was a pretty dismal result although against a less than benign backdrop of the cost of living crisis; party-gate and worrying predictions of interest rates soaring to 10%, it was always going to be a tough battle.

The headline grabbing result in Tunbridge Wells, a Tory citadel for decades, seemed to encapsulate the party’s woes.

So, the question is whether this represents a decline in its fortunes that is going to be hard to stop or a temporary blip that will see the party’s supporters return to the fold at a general election.

It was a pretty dismal result for the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party Picture: PA
It was a pretty dismal result for the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party Picture: PA

It’s worth remembering that this is a relatively safe Conservative seat where MP Greg Clark has a majority of 14,654.

But that is not impregnable and at the last election was for a short while ‘in play’ as a target constituency for the Lib Dems.

It was also the only area of Kent which backed staying in the EU in the referendum.

Reasons to be cheerful: Not many but will bank on losses being a classic mid-term protest and that its traditional supporters who sat on their hands this time will come back when the chips are down.

Reasons to be fearful: The report into ‘partygate’ might be tricky to navigate.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats leader, is rather low key
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats leader, is rather low key

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have been edging up the political game of snakes and ladders and in both areas continued their advances; notably Tunbridge Wells where they are the largest party and likely to be a dominant force.

Whether this can be sustained is potentially an issue but the party, written off by many, has proved remarkably resilient although its leader Ed Davey is rather low key.

Reasons to be cheerful: Written off as a political force, they have become Lazarus-like in reviving their fortunes.

Reasons to be fearful: Their specialism in winning by-elections is well-known but ambushing unaware parties in one-off battles is different to winning general elections.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has yet to set out a compelling agenda for change. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has yet to set out a compelling agenda for change. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Labour

Neither Maidstone or Tunbridge Wells are particularly fertile ground for the party, so modest gains were to be expected.

But their biggest challenge is to find a way of convincing voters that they are worth voting for.

The party talks the talk but Sir Keir Starmer has yet to set out a compelling agenda for change - certainly not on the scale that delivered successive landslide victories under Tony Blair.

Reasons to be cheerful: Has halted the slide in support that led to one of its most dismal performances in a general election overseen by then leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Reasons to be cheerful: Proved it could be a political force to be reckoned with.

Reasons to be fearful: Still concerns that leader Keir Starmer not cutting through with voters.

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