What can we learn from the recent by-election in Harrogate, and what it could mean for a General Election?

14 April 2024

On the 11 April we saw the results of the Stray, Woodlands and Hookstone district by-election.

Previously the seat was Libdemm and they held this seat in this election, but what can we learn from these elections ?

Looking at the statistics

The seat was last contested in 2022, at the formation of North Yorkshire Council, and the turn-out was broadly the same, however the distribution was different.

  • Conservatives: Took 2nd place in 2022, and in these elections lost 142 votes
  • Labour Party: Lost 73 votes from the previous election
  • Reform UK: Didn’t stand in 2022, but took 141 votes this time
  • Liberal Democrats: Dropped 256 voters/ lost 19% of their previous vote
  • Green Party: Didn’t stand in 2022, but received 376 votes


Stray, Woodlands and Hookstone 2022 v 2024
Party Votes 2022 Votes 2024 Change % change
Conservative Party 910 768 -142 -15.6
Labour Party 189 116 -73 -38.6
Reform UK 0 141 141 N/A
Liberal Democrats 1350 1094 -256 -19.0
Green Party 0 376 376 N/A


If you look at the redistribution of the vote Cons, Lab and Libdem collectively lost 471 votes.

Collectively Green and Reform gained 517 votes.

Conduct during campaigns and strategy

At times it was a painful election progress to observe, and to report upon.

The Lidems operated a very aggressive campaign insisting it was a campaign between Conservatives and Libdems, and that was a message used on their literature. They were the only party that declined to engage with us and ignored requests for interviews with their candidate. At the count they stopped all interviews with their candidate following he result.

Other parties engaged with video interviews, where free-reign on questions were allow – questions did not need to be submitted.

The Libdems put out literature that claimed that Green Party had stood down. It is illegal to knowingly publish a false statement during an election process. That could be used as a reason to ask for the by-election to be re-run, as could overspend on election expenses.

There are many watching with interest if there will be a legal challenge to the result. That would be a separate matter to what has been referred to the police.



Campaign spend

The expense limits in this by-election are £1,393.68, a figures that has been recently revised by Electoral Services.

Expenses typically include spend on printed material and advertising. All candidates used flyers through doors, and Reform additionally used online advertising. A practice employed by some is to have a double-sided flyer, with one side promoting the local campaign, and the other the national party – that means only 50% of the production and delivery has to be attributed to the local campaign. That is a practice that the Conservatives have said that they don’t use, but the Libdems have.

We posed a question to each of the campaigns:

Please could you tell me if your spend for Stray, Woodfield and Hookstone by-election will, or has already exceeded that figures?

Liberal Democrats declined to respond.

Green Party

Gillian Charters said:

Mine certainly haven’t – even though we’ve had to spend more than we would otherwise have done to produce a leaflet countering the LD false statement.


Geoff Foxhall said:

We will not approach the legal expense limit for the Stray by-election.

Reform UK

John Swales said:

I can confirm that we have spent £568.42 so far on posters, leaflets and ancillary items, which is well within the allowed figure. At this stage I do not expect our expenses to exceed the allowed figure.


John Ennis said:

Happy to answer your question: no we haven’t, and we won’t, exceed the expenditure limit.

Each candidate has 35 days from the election to provide a detailed return of their election spend. That is not just a total spend, but a list of outgoing transactions.


Individuals typically vote for personality or party, or don’t vote for a particular party or person, due to an issue they have with them.

The Conservatives had a strong candidate with John Innes, somebody with a previous track record of being the councillor in the district. But his challenge was likely that some were voting against the Conservative Party, due to issues with the party that are more national – as shown by national polling data.

Libdems are also polling poorly at a national level, below Reform UK. That seems to be reflected in the votes they received in this by-election. As a campaign, they didn’t allow personality of their candidate to be shown, and played on being the alternative to Conservatives. The concern is that the the Libdems have no ideology, and are just about winning a seat.

Green Party had a strong candidate. There was a feeling that only the Green Party delivered true green policies. As times moved on, all parties developed their own green policies, but there remains scepticism in some quarters that other parties really mean it, so votes will have returned to Green.

Reform UK are a party that have started from zero over a relatively few years. As a party they seem to polarise individuals, as can be seen by online comments. They will be interesting to watch as they are rapidly rising up the polls

In the past the Councillors for Harrogate have been formed from a combination of parties, and that has proven to give a better representation for the people of Harrogate, better debate, better engagement with county council, more ideas.

This will give a Harrogate and Knaresborough Area Constituency Committee made up of 7 Libdems, 4 Conservatives, 2 Independents

What does this mean when it comes to a general election

If you take the view that voting locally will be in alignment with current polling, then votes are thought to go from Conservative to Labour.

However, the Conservatives have a local group of loyal voters, and that can be seen by the votes given to the party of the last 14-years. Also, the vote for John Innes was down from last vote in this by-election, but not through the floor by any means. So for the Conservatives a takeaway from this by-election is that local is not following national.

For many years the seat has been seen as between Conservative and Libdems, and not generally being strongly contested by Labour. But if you take the view that Conservative will lose votes, due the national picture of the party, it is likely that those votes would go between Libdems, Labour, Green and Reform.

So with both Libdem and Conservative polling lower, and Green increasing, with Reform surging, the short-term outcome still sits between Conservative and Libdem, but if a general election is further way, Reform will take a much more significant number.


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