Keir Starmer’s party overturned massive majorities – and broke records – by securing stunning victories in both the Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections.
Sir Keir boasted of ‘phenomenal results’ and crowed Labour are ‘redrawing the political map’.
The grim meltdown could trigger panic in the Conservative ranks, with polling experts saying it points to a landslide on the scale of Tony Blair‘s 1997 wipeout. Senior Tories took solace that turnout was low and insisted there is still no ‘enthusiasm’ for Sir Keir. ‘Normally by elections are protest votes, this appears to be protest non votes,’ one veteran told MailOnline.
Although by-elections are not directly reflected at general elections, a swing of the scale seen overnight could theoretically reduce the Tories to a couple of dozen seats.
Mr Sunak is set to respond to the by-election results as he continues his trip to the Middle East in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks in Israel.
Labour gained Mid Beds, which was vacated this summer by Tory ex-Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, for the first time in the constituency’s century-long history.
Sir Keir’s party celebrated an historic victory after a 20.5 percentage point swing towards them since the 2019 general election.
It was the largest majority in terms of votes overturned by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
Labour’s Alistair Strathern delivers a victory speech after his win in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election
Mr Strathern has replaced Nadine Dorries as the local MP in Mid Bedfordshire after he overturned a huge Tory majority
Labour supporters embrace each other as they celebrate their party’s stunning success in Mid Bedfordshire
Sarah Edwards, the victorious Labour candidate in Tamworth, said local voters had chosen a ‘fresh start’
Ms Edwards, who secured a last-minute endorsement from TV’s Ross Kemp on polling day, will replace Chris Pincher as the local MP
In its 105 years of existence, Labour had never won Mid Bedfordshire and were 24,664 votes behind the Tories at the 2019 general election.
Labour shadow cabinet minister Peter Kyle, who masterminded his party’s victory in Mid Bedfordshire, hailed a ‘political earthquake‘.
‘This is the biggest by-election shock in history, it is a political earthquake and it is one that is sending an unignorable message to Westminster and to Rishi Sunak that this country deserves better,’ he said.
Alistair Strathern took the Mid Beds seat with a majority of 1,192 votes over his Tory rival Festus Akinbusoye – who dramatically walked out of the count without listening to his rival’s victory speech.
Victory for Labour in Brexit-backing Tamworth saw the party overturn the Tories‘ 19,600-vote majority from the 2019 general election.
The swing from the Tories to Labour in the Staffordshire constituency was 23.9 percentage points, which is the second-largest managed by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
It also beat the 23.7 percentage point swing that Labour achieved when winning the Selby and Ainsty by-election in July.
The Tamworth contest was triggered by the resignation of former Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher after he was found to have drunkenly groped two men in a posh London club.
Labour candidate Sarah Edwards defeated Tory rival Andrew Cooper by a majority of 1,316 votes.
Following the double by-election victory for Labour, Sir Keir said: ‘These are phenomenal results that show Labour is back in the service of working people and redrawing the political map.
‘Winning in these Tory strongholds shows that people overwhelmingly want change and they’re ready to put their faith in our changed Labour Party to deliver it.
‘Voters across Mid Bedfordshire, Tamworth and Britain want a Labour government determined to deliver for working people, with a proper plan to rebuild our country.
‘To those who have given us their trust, and those considering doing so, Labour will spend every day acting in your interests and focused on your priorities. Labour will give Britain its future back.’
Mr Sunak will be left reeling from the double blow, which comes after he attempted to revive Tory fortunes with a recent policy blitz.
The PM has made announcements on Net Zero, the HS2 rail line, an A-levels shake-up, and a New Zealand-style smoking ban.
He has also overhauled his Downing Street team, but has yet to see much improvement in the Conservatives’ opinion polling.
Meanwhile, Labour figures will see the by-election results as further encouragement that Sir Keir could be in Downing Street as soon as next year.
Labour sources pointed to how Tamworth is not among the party’s target seats for the general election and is the 57th safest Tory constituency in the country.
They also noted how the result saw a bigger swing to Labour than the South East Staffordshire by-election in 1996, which preceded Tony Blair’s landslide general election victory the next year.
Tory minister Andrew Bowie admitted the Conservatives had suffered a ‘disappointing’ night, but told Sky News: ‘It’s very unusual for governments to win by-elections.
‘What’s quite clear and what’s been demonstrated is that while people support the priorities of the Government… people are reserving judgment about who they’re going to vote for in the general election.’
He pointed to how Labour had won less votes at the Mid Bedfordshire by-election than they did at the 2019 general election, while they only added around 800 votes to their tally from the last general election in the Tamworth contest.
Mr Bowie claimed the by-election results did not show a ‘groundswell’ of support for Labour, adding: ‘There’s no enthusiasm behind the Keir Starmer project.
‘I would be very surprised if these results were to be repeated in a general election.’
A Conservative spokesman acknowledged a ‘difficult result’ in Tamworth but pointed to a ‘much-reduced turnout’ in the by-election of 35.9 per cent, compared to the larger number of voters at the last general election.
The spokesman added: ‘It’s important to see it in context. The government of the day rarely wins by-elections and there were specific reasons around the nature of the departure of the previous MP.’
Elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said the two by-election results were ‘extremely bad news’ for the Conservatives and suggested Mr Sunak was on course for general election defeat.
‘This isn’t destiny, but it is a pointer and it is a pointer that, unless the Conservatives can fairly dramatically and fairly radically turn things around, then they are in truth staring defeat in the face in 12 months’ time,’ he said.
He warned the Tories ‘may get caught in a pincer movement between some of their former Leave voters wandering off to Labour but others going off to Reform UK’.
Reform secured 1,487 votes in Mid Bedfordshire and 1,373 in Tamworth, in both instances more than Labour’s majority over the Conservatives.
Vote counting got underway in the Tamworth by-election last night as Rishi Sunak faced a huge test in the Staffordshire constituency
The Prime Minister endured an anxious wait to see if he was set to suffer further demoralising by-election losses
Ballot boxes were delivered to the Tamworth count at The Rawlett School in unusual style
The first ballot boxes were delivered as the count got underway in Shefford in the Mid Bedfordshire contest
Polls closed at 10pm in contests in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire (where a dog was pictured waiting while its owner cast their ballot in Flitwick) after voters were asked to elect new MPs
Mr Sunak was set to be told the by-election results while continuing a Middle East trip, during which he has held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman
Ms Edwards, the victorious Labour candidate who secured a last-minute endorsement from TV’s Ross Kemp on polling day, said voters in Tamworth had chosen a ‘fresh start’.
‘They’ve sent a clear message to Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives that they have had enough of this failed Government, which has crashed the economy and destroyed our public services,’ she added.
‘The people of Tamworth have made it clear. It’s time for change.’
She demanded that Mr Sunak ‘do the decent thing and call a general election’ following her victory.
Mr Strathern said his by-election victory in Mid Bedfordshire had ‘made history’ and sent a ‘resounding message’.
Giving his victory speech, he said: ‘Tonight residents across Mid Bedfordshire have made history, after decades of being taken for granted, feeling left behind, being under-represented, they made a decision it was time for a change.
‘Nowhere is off limits for this Labour Party and tonight’s result proves it.’
The Liberal Democrats had been vying with Labour for victory in Mid Bedfordshire but ended up coming third.
They claimed their success in winning over voters in ‘true blue’ villages in Mid Bedfordshire had handed a win to Sir Keir’s party.
Responding to the Mid Bedfordshire result, Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: ‘We nearly doubled our share of the vote which would see the Lib Dems win dozens of seats off the Conservatives in a general election.
‘The Liberal Democrats played a crucial role in defeating the Conservatives in Mid Bedfordshire, and we can play a crucial role in getting rid of this Conservative government at the next election.’
A Lib Dem insider noted how Labour’s vote had hardened up in the constituency’s towns as voting took place during Thursday.
Since becoming PM, Mr Sunak has already suffered crushing defeats in by-elections in Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome.
Both of those were previously Tory strongholds before being won by Labour and the Lib Dems, respectively, in July.
As polls closed in both Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire last night, a Conservative spokesman was downcast about the party’s chances of clinging on to the two constituencies.
‘These were always going to be challenging by-elections and the rule of thumb is that governments don’t win them,’ they said.
‘We have seen little to no enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer who voters can see stands for nothing and always puts short term political gain first.
‘It is clear that we have to maintain our focus on people’s immediate priorities whilst taking long-term decisions which will lead to the change this country needs.’
Labour MP Pat McFadden, his party’s national campaign coordinator, also attempted to manage expectations of success.
‘We have known all along that winning these seats would be a long shot, with huge majorities to overturn,’ he said.
‘The fact that we are even on the pitch is a sign of how far the Labour Party has changed.
‘We are making real progress in all corners of our country and showing that with Labour, we can get Britain’s future back.’
Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine played down her party’s chances of victory in Mid Bedfordshire but suggested they had won over disgruntled Tory supporters.
‘Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the Lib Dem vote has surged in true blue villages across Bedfordshire, as former lifelong Conservative voters choose to send this government a message,’ she said.
There had been Tory hopes that the Lib Dem challenge in Mid Bedfordshire would bleed votes away from Labour and allow the Conservatives to hold the constituency
Labour’s campaign in Tamworth was boosted on Thursday by a last-minute endorsement for their candidate Sarah Edwards from TV’s Ross Kemp
Labour’s winning candidate in Mid Bedfordshire, Alistair Strathern, previously made headlines after he was unmasked as an eco-activist who posed as a zombie during a Greenpeace protest outside the Home Office in November last year
Labour are currently around 20 points ahead of the Tories in national opinion polls, as Sir Keir seeks to put himself on course for Downing Street at a general election expected next year.
But the Opposition had sought to downplay their chances of winning the by-election contests and insisted it is a ‘moonshot’ to achieve victory in either or both seats.
A spokesman for Sir Keir this week described them as ‘super safe’ constituencies for the Tories ahead of the by-election contests.
‘These are in super safe Tory seats that would require for us to overturn results larger than those which we overturned in Selby,’ the spokesman said.
‘If we were to win Tamworth and had that swing at a general election, it would mean that the Tories will be down to fewer than 60 seats at the next general election.
‘So a little bit of perspective is required here. Tamworth is a seat where the Tories got 66 per cent of the vote at the last election. Mid Bedfordshire is a similarly safe Tory constituency.’
The best chance for the Lib Dems of springing an upset was likely to be in Mid Bedfordshire, where they began campaigning even before Ms Dorries officially quit.
There were Tory hopes that the Lib Dem challenge in Mid Bedfordshire – where they came second in the 2005 and 2010 general elections – would bleed votes away from Labour and allow the Conservatives to hold the constituency.
But a Tory source told MailOnline that Labour had sidelined the Lib Dems as the campaign had gone on, and Sir Ed Davey’s party had since been targeting blue areas.
The by-election contests have been bad-tempered in both seats, with attacks on the Tory candidate in Tamworth for suggesting in an old social media post that families using food banks should ‘f*** off’ if they could afford TVs and phones.
Mr Sunak this week declined to condemn an apparent suggestion by Andrew Cooper that out-of-work parents who cannot afford to feed their children should ‘f*** off’.
The Tory leader was asked during Prime Minister’s Questions about a photo of a flowchart shared by Mr Cooper on Facebook.
The diagram suggested that those who are out of work, pay for ‘TV Sky/BT/etc’, or ‘have a phone contract + £30’ should ‘f*** off’ rather than seek help.
In reply to the question, the PM said only that he was ‘proud of our record supporting people with the cost of living’, before outlining Government policies aimed at supporting people through the crisis.
Mr Cooper told Channel 5 News he was ‘sorry if I’ve offended somebody’ after the post was publicised.
Asked if regretted sharing the image, he said: ‘Obviously it is not something I would share now in today’s world.
‘We obviously mature and have different opinions than we do three years ago.’
He added: ‘Of course I’m sorry if I’ve offended somebody. But it is very hard in today’s world to have an opinion and not to offend somebody.’
Labour’s campaign in Tamworth was boosted on Thursday by a last-minute endorsement from TV’s Ross Kemp.
‘It’s gonna be close,’ the former EastEnders actor told voters in a social media video.
‘But you have the opportunity to vote for a difference in your constituency today. So please vote for Sarah Edwards.’
In Mid Bedfordshire, Labour last month threatened legal action against the Lib Dems as the two parties clashed over claims made on campaign leaflets.
Labour’s candidate in Mid Bedfordshire, Alistair Strathern, previously made headlines after he was unmasked as an eco-activist who posed as a zombie during a Greenpeace protest outside the Home Office in November last year.
The PM’s press secretary this week told reporters that ‘mid-term by-elections are extremely tough for incumbent governments’ but said the Tories were ‘fighting for every vote’ in the by-elections.