The Conservatives have suffered twin losses in the Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth by-elections.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the “phenomenal” news as he said Labour was “redrawing the political map”.
Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands argued the Conservatives must “reflect” on the circumstances leading up its two by-election defeats.
Hands’ party suffered a titanic collapse in their vote in Mid Bedfordshire, a constituency they had held since 1931, with the 24,664 majority won by former MP Nadine Dorries in 2019 entirely wiped out in a 20.5 percentage point swing to Labour.
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The Conservative vote share nearly halved from 59.8 per cent to 31.1 per cent. Labour increased their showing from 21.7 per cent to 34 per cent.
In Tamworth, the Conservatives suffered their worst by-election defeat to Labour in modern history. Sarah Edwards took the Staffordshire seat with a majority of 1,316 and one of the party’s largest ever by-election swings as her Conservative rival bolted from the count after the result was announced.
Keir Starmer is now the first Labour leader to win Tamworth since the days of Tony Blair, reversing a Conservative majority that has increased in every election since 2010.
The party also won the constituency from the Conservatives in a by-election in 1996 before winning a landslide at the general election.
Speaking in Mid Bedfordshire this morning, Starmer said: “This is an incredible night in politics, an incredible morning – and incredible result here for so many reasons.
“It is clear that the voters here have turned their back on a failed Tory government. They’ve had enough of the decline of the last 13 years and they are crying out for change. Positive change that a changed Labour Party can bring them.”
Sir Keir added: “the party of the future, the party of national renewal… is this changed Labour Party.”
Despite the brace of bad results, minister Andrew Bowie insisted the Conservatives were “on the right course” this morning, telling Sky News: “There is no groundswell of support for the Labour Party. What that tells me is that people are supportive of what we’re doing but they just were not prepared to come out and vote for us.”
Party chairman Hands said he did not “see any enthusiasm for Labour” despite the party’s victories, adding that turnout had been low.
He explained he had campaigned in both seats, adding: “I don’t think a single person came to the door to say that despite all the problems people are facing, that Labour and Sir Keir Starmer were the solution to their problems.”
“So 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.
“But clearly we need to reflect on that and we need to continue to deliver against our priorities and make sure that people see that Rishi Sunak is doing a very good job as Prime Minister.”
However, elections professor and polling guru John Curtice told the BBC: “Both of them are extremely bad news for the Conservatives. In whatever criteria you use, they’re up there very clearly in the top 10 worst Conservative performances against the Labour Party.”
Sir John Redwood, who was head of the No 10 policy unit under Margaret Thatcher, urged the government to cut taxes and pursue its pledge to halt illegal Channel crossings in wake of the by-elections.
“In the two by elections thousands of Conservative voters in 2019 stayed at home. The Labour vote was similar to 2019”, Sir John wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“Many people want the government to stop the boats, improve the quality and efficiency of services and cut taxes to get some growth.
“Low by election turnouts can produce big swings. They show people want something better than all the main parties are offering.”
Conversely, former cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland, who is considered to be on the moderate wing of the party, told the BBC: “I think that as Conservatives, we now need to make it very clear what the next five years is going to look like, and that’s what I’m looking for from the prime minister and our leaders.
“I’m not looking for academic arguments about issues that are not going to swing voters. I’m looking for serious, grown-up approaches to the issues that really matter – on the economy, on housing, on the future for our young people.
“We’ve got some good Conservative answers to these issues. Let’s hear them and let’s hear nothing else in the next 12 months.”
The Lib Dems, who came third in Mid Bedfordshire, claimed their ability to switch Conservative voters paved the way for Labour’s victory.
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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