A year without MP by-elections – for only the fourth time since the war

To go through an entire calendar year without a single poll is highly unusual.

A man clears snow outside a polling station in Dalwhinnie in the Cairngorms, during the 2019 general election (Jane Barlow/PA)
A man clears snow outside a polling station in Dalwhinnie in the Cairngorms, during the 2019 general election (Jane Barlow/PA)

The year 2020 will go down in political history as one packed with more than the usual amount of high drama and controversy.

But for connoisseurs of the ballot box, a familiar feature of the Westminster landscape has been missing: the by-election.

Not once during the past 12 months have voters in the UK been asked to go to the polls to choose a replacement member of parliament.

Constituency by-elections have long been a common feature of the political scene, delivering many a shock result, surprise defeat or stunning victory.

To go through an entire calendar year without a single poll is highly unusual, however.

The year 2020 will be only the fourth since the Second World War that this has happened.

The previous instances were 1992, 1998 and 2010.

POLITICS ByElections
(PA graphic)

By-elections are typically triggered by an MP resigning or passing away – but despite all that has happened in 2020, including Covid-19, no parliamentary seats have fallen vacant.

The most recent by-election in the UK took place on August 1 2019, when the Liberal Democrats gained the seat of Brecon & Radnorshire from the Conservatives – only for the Conservatives to win back it four months later at the general election.

It means that as of now – December 9 2020 – the UK has gone for 496 days without a parliamentary by-election.

This is almost unprecedented in post-war history.

The record to beat is 581 days, which was the gap between the Ogmore by-election on February 14 2002 and the Brent East by-election on September 18 2003.

A new record will be set if no by-elections have taken place before the first week of March 2021.

The year 2020 has not been entirely without any kind of elections, however.

A handful of local council by-elections were held early in the year before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and since October some council by-elections have taken place in Scotland.

But for anyone feeling withdrawal symptoms at not having seen a ballot box in 2020, a bumper polling day is waiting in 2021 in the shape of ‘Super Thursday’.

Elections are due to take place on May 6 for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, the London assembly, local councils in England, 13 directly-elected mayors including London and Greater Manchester, and Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales.

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