Only one candidate can win a by-election, but that fact won’t stop a handful of parties all claiming the result as a victory of some kind.
With the dust now settled on the understated Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election, it is left to the main parties to try and fold the result neatly into their preferred narrative.
Mild gains for Labour
For Labour the excuses are ready-made: a towering Tory majority in a historically Conservative seat was always going to be a big ask to overcome.
Labour figures were playing down their chances right until the last minute, but no doubt there were a few who dared to hope the party could replicate the Lib Dems’ shock upset in Chesham and Amersham a few months ago.
The swing they got was significant, but looking at the context of a by-election defence by a 10+year incumbent government under fire from several angles it was still somewhat underwhelming.
The causes for this are no doubt numerous and Keir Starmer’s ability to affect many of them is limited, but if anything the result will slightly embolden his critics, rather than silence them.
For Reform UK, the new and updated version of the Brexit Party which itself was the new and updated version of UKIP, the result offered more encouragement.
Cast adrift in electoral no man’s land since the Tories managed to swallow the Brexit question whole under Boris Johnson, Reform have popped up again to remind Johnson that while he may be outflanking Labour to the left on some matters, there is still someone there to outflank him from the right on other issues - particularly those which resonate with the Tory base.
That said, it is worth remembering that many of the seats the Tories failed to gain in 2019 would have likely been within reach had Reform UK not stood candidates in them.
This dangling carrot may prove more effective than the stick of electoral competition in seats like Old Bexley and Sidcup if Tice and Co want to put pressure on Johnson’s Tories.
North Shropshire looms
For the Conservatives victory is a fairly obvious, even self-evident claim given that it is their candidate who will enter Parliament as the next MP for the constituency.
While many Tories will have breathed a collective sigh of relief upon seeing the results come in, all but the most sceptical among them will have been unsurprised at the result.
Though they won’t have much time to enjoy their relief, given that another, much more tricky by-election lurks just around the corner.
In Old Bexley and Sidcup, Louie French will take the seat once held by former PM Ted Heath and, more recently, former minister James Brokenshire.
During the campaign, which ticked quietly along while first MPs’ second jobs and then Downing Street Christmas parties dominated the political news agenda, French promised that he would not take on any work outside of Parliament should be elected.
No word yet on whether he is planning a Christmas-do, though.
But if sleaze was on voter’s minds in Old Bexley and Sidcup, it perhaps struck a somewhat nostalgic note.
The man who represented Old Bexley and Sidcup for the Conservatives after Heath and before Brokenshire eventually had the whip removed over a scandal that would have made Owen Paterson blush.
Derek Conway lost the Conservative whip in 2008 after it came to light that he had employed his son as a political researcher using public funds, despite the fact his son was a full-time student at Newcastle University and there was no record of him ever having worked in Westminster.
Although no by-election came about as a result of Conway’s indiscretion, the ease with which the Tories held onto the seat at the next general election following that sleaze scandal will boost Conservative hopes ahead of the North Shropshire contest due to take place in a couple of weeks time.