On page 382 of his "Modernity Britain: a shake of the dice,1959-62" historian David Kynaston, picks out "Orpington" as "perhaps the most famous by-election of the century . . .where. . .Eric Lubbock . . . overturned a Conservative majority of almost 15 000 into a stunning Liberal victory of almost 8 000."
Well, although we are still only in the first quarter of it, the 21st Century can beat that.
In Tiverton and Honiton we Liberal Democrats have overturned a majority of over 24 000 with a stunning victory of over 6 000. Rapture indeed, and many congratulations to those involved in achieving it, along with relief that Labour has reversed its misfortunes in Wakefield by regaining the seat it lost in 2019.
The Orpington result led to the then Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan's "night of the long knives," in which he sacked a third of the cabinet in the hope of restoring Tory fortunes.
And, here's where the rapture is modified. He, and his successor Sir Alec Douglas Home, very nearly did. In spite of the low ebb to which Tory fortunes appeared to have fallen after 13 years of power and a dash of sexual scandal, Labour under Harold Wilson won the subsequent general election by only four seats.
The Tories are good at recovering and doubtless have not lost the knack.
In addition, a numerate friend has pointed out to me that the combined votes cast for the major parties in the two by-elections last Thursday were as follows:
Conservatives: 24 634
Liberal Democrat: 23 045
Labour: 14 728
Green: 1 651
It beggars belief that, even after 12 years in continuous power, and with the lies, sleaze incompetence and failures of the present administration under Johnson's amoral leadership, the Tory party can still muster more votes than anyone else, even in the hot- house atmosphere of by-elections, when party loyalists are more willing to stay at home, or "lend" their votes to other parties just to make a protest and give the incumbents a kick in the backside.
The combined non-Tory vote is massively greater than the Tory vote but, unless we can replicate the informal non- aggression pacts which operated in these two by-elections at a general election, the Tories are destined to yet another victory..
The "progressive parties" are not yet ready, or have decided that the electors is not yet ready, for formal pacts to avoid avoid fighting each other at all, so informal low key campaigning seems to be the best alternative we can manage.
However informal, the Tory PR machine will be quick to dub such understandings as wicked conspiracies. To counter this we need to be ready and point out that their current 80 seat majority was achieved by their persuading UKIP not to stand against them in 2019. Maybe we should refer to the present government as the Tory-UKIP coalition, or even the Tory-UKIP Front.
Be that as it may, it is possible that in fact the electorate is ahead of the party stalwarts in this, and that the common sense which has clearly operated in the by-elections will transfer to a general elections. I sincerely hope so