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Labour has ‘made history’ with by-election result, Starmer says

20 Oct 2023 5 minute read
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Photo Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Labour has “made history”, Sir Keir Starmer said, after his party dealt a double by-election blow to Rishi Sunak by overturning huge Tory majorities in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire.

The party leader vowed to “repay” people who lent Labour their vote in the two seats, which both previously had comfortable Conservative majorities.

Appearing alongside winning candidate Alistair Strathern at the Forest Centre & Millennium Country Park near Bedford, Sir Keir said: “What a fantastic candidate… He has not only won here, he’s made history here over the past 24 hours. An incredible achievement already.”

Sir Keir added: “We know that voters here have voted for us and they’ve put their trust and their confidence in a changed Labour Party, and we will repay them for that trust and confidence.

“We do so humbly. And I know there are people yesterday who probably voted Tory in the past who voted for a changed Labour party because they despair at the state of their own party.

“I’m glad that they see that our party is changed and they can put their trust and confidence in them, and I hope that that persuades other voters across the country who may have voted for other parties in the past, that the party of the future, the party of national renewal to reject the decline of the last 13 years, is this changed Labour Party.”

Redrawing

Sir Keir claimed Labour was “redrawing the political map” by taking seats which had been comfortably Conservative, ahead of the general election expected next year.

In Tamworth, Labour’s Sarah Edwards defeated Tory Andrew Cooper by a majority of 1,316.

The Conservatives were defending a 19,634 majority, but a 23.9 percentage point swing to Labour saw that eradicated.

The result, announced shortly at 2.45am, was the second-highest ever by-election swing to Labour.

Just half an hour later, there was even better news for Sir Keir as Mid Bedfordshire saw the largest majority overturned by Labour at a by-election since 1945.

The Tories had held Mid Bedfordshire since 1931, with a 24,664 Conservative majority in 2019.

But Mr Strathern took the seat with a majority of 1,192 over his Tory rival Festus Akinbusoye, with a swing of 20.5 percentage points to Labour.

Mr Strathern said his victory showed “nowhere is off limits for this Labour Party”, while Ms Edwards challenged the Prime Minister to call a general election.

“My message to the Prime Minister is: get in your Government car, drive to Buckingham Palace, do the decent thing, and call a general election,” she said.

Both contests were triggered by the high-profile departures of their previous MPs.

Former cabinet minister Nadine Dorries quit – eventually – as Mid Bedfordshire’s MP in anger at being denied a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list.

In Tamworth, Chris Pincher resigned after being found to have drunkenly groped two men in an “egregious case of sexual misconduct” at London’s exclusive Carlton Club last year – an incident which helped trigger Boris Johnson’s exit from No 10 because of his handling of the situation.

Blips

The Conservatives sought to portray the by-elections as mid-term blips, exacerbated by the difficulties surrounding the previous MPs.

But elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said the two results were “extremely bad news” for the Conservatives and suggested Mr Sunak was on course for general election defeat.

He warned the Tories risked seeing votes drift to Labour on the left and Reform UK on the right.

Reform secured 1,487 votes in Mid Bedfordshire and 1,373 in Tamworth – in both instances more than Labour’s majority over the Conservatives.

Prof Curtice told the BBC: “No government has hitherto lost to the principal opposition party in a by-election a seat as safe as Tamworth.”

He added that 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”.

The Tamworth result echoes Labour’s victory in a by-election in its predecessor constituency South East Staffordshire in 1996.

The Conservatives went into that contest defending a large majority only to see Labour win the seat on a swing of 22.1 percentage points before a general election landslide the following year – a result Sir Keir would dearly like to repeat.

Legacy issues

On Friday’s morning media round, Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands sought to blame the “legacy issues” predating Mr Sunak’s premiership which led up to the two by-elections, suggesting people “were happy with the job Rishi Sunak is doing as Prime Minister”.

He pointed to low turnout in both votes, with 44% in Mid Bedfordshire – down from 74% at the last general election – and 36% in Tamworth, down by around 28%.

“I don’t see any enthusiasm for Labour, but clearly there’s been a lot of, if you like, background circumstances in those two by-elections that have also made the job difficult for us,” he told Times Radio.

Mr Sunak was out of the country as the by-election results came in, spending the night in Saudi Arabia on a tour of the Middle East in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel.

The results were announced a year to the day after Mr Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss resigned as prime minister and leave him with a headache as he ends his first 12 months in post.

In Mid Bedfordshire the Liberal Democrats came third, and claimed their ability to switch Tory voters cleared the way for Labour’s victory.

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.”


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Jones Arfon
Jones Arfon
7 months ago

Voters in England are between a rock and a hard place with 2 brands if conservatism to vote for. In Scotland and Wales they have a left of centre option.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Jones Arfon

People didn’t vote for Labour. They voted for Not The Tories

Jeff
Jeff
7 months ago

Any safe seat is now up for grabs. I hope all Welsh Cons are checking the job ad sections just in case.
Fingers crossed at the GE but the X needs to be in the box to oust this government and to bury them for good.

Sally-Anne
Sally-Anne
7 months ago

I hate the LibDems, like I hate Tories, but I think we should start calling the LibDems “The Party of Optimism” because only a truly committed optimist could call coming third in a three-horse race a good result…..but the damnable Tories won’t even allow the LibDems the honour of being the party of optimism, nope: “suggesting people “were happy with the job Rishi Sunak is doing as Prime Minister”.”

Copium overdoses are expected to double today….

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Sally-Anne

The Party of Optimism?!
I like the acronym

Sally-Anne
Sally-Anne
7 months ago

The people: “We hate the Tories! We hate the Tories!”
Starmer: “They love me! They really love me”….

Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
7 months ago

I really think the UK is between a ‘rock and a hard place’ When I lo0k at both Sunak and Starmer, I see little difference in their policies, lies, and total inability to understand that making promises is of no regard, if you swiftly reverse on them a short time later, I do not trust either of them! At least, here in Wales we do have real choice(so far!)

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago

“this changed Labour Party.” Would that be “The New Conservatives” then? Facetious comments aside, the coming GE does not bode well for Wales. Labour will gain a very large majority on the back of an anti-Tory backlash. However, they will not do the difficult reforms Britain and its constituent nations need. Time and time again, Starmer & co have stated that there is no need for reform, just a Labour Govt that they claim will be competent. They’ve even ditched their commitment to replace the HoL. I predict that a token gesture of some minor powers will be devolved to… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Well then, such a p**s poor Starmer government (and it’s hard to see how it can be anything else) should boost support for indy if the movement is on the ball and active, which I’m sure it will be, as an opportunity like that doesn’t come along very often. I say bring it on!

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Trouble is Padi, the movement needs to offer a fairly detailed, realistic and imaginable picture of what replaces the UK. This is why I see some mileage in GCJ’s proposals on a confederation. It harks back to Gwynfor’s Britannic Union. When I speak to English progressives about having national parliaments/States and a confederal parliament/constitution with shared institutions and rights such as FoM etc, they open up to the idea. They’re not as wedded to the UK as we always think – furthermore, when I speak to Welsh people who aren’t your trad indy types, that kind of idea, a sovereign… Read more »

Ann
Ann
7 months ago

To be honest I think Greg Hans was correct in the media round this morning! It was Tories not voting rather than a huge rise in Labour’s support which led to these results!

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 months ago

Such a low turnout in these local elections. Only 44% and 36% respectively. Hardly representative.
Odd how unions need 50% turnout to call a strike but 36 % and 44% ok to run the country.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Even less is needed to run the country, as the Tories have managed to do it on just a quarter of the potential votes. It’s absurd, as you point out.

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Majoritarianism – a democratic dictatorship by the largest minority.

Mawkernewek
7 months ago

Exactly how many times did he say he “changed” the Labour party? Is that an even or an odd number, because in the former case it might be just as it was?
Of course, this is an egocentric attempt to attribute the success (or arguably the Tories failure) to Keir Starmer personally.

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

“Purged” might be a better word for it.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago

I trust the word of John Curtice. His insight and analysis are usually spot on. Tories fretting about losing votes to Reform was made obvious last week when they swam even deeper down their sewer to try and get Farage to rejoin them.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
7 months ago

The Tories will go the same way as the old Liberal Party went people can see how much damage has been done and yes there are still people die hard blue rinse brigade but they are getting fewer and fewer I NOTICE WITH SOME REMARKS THERE ARE SOME DIE HARD TORIES ON HERE they have done too much damage

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

All Tories have now is doubling down on their party’s insanity because their egos will not permit them a mea culpa, even though the island is in tatters and everyone is snarling at each other about everything

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