Rishi Sunak was yesterday urged to cut taxes and return to traditional Tory values after stay-at-home Conservative voters handed Labour two devastating by-elections wins.
Keir Starmer said Labour had ‘made history’ after romping home in the previously safe Tory seats of Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth. Ministers said the defeats – among the biggest in British political history – had ‘killed off’ any prospect of a general election before the autumn of next year.
Results suggested that the Labour victories stemmed from thousands of former Conservative voters staying at home.
Turnout was low in both contests, allowing Labour to win without increasing its vote.
Mr Sunak acknowledged that the results were ‘disappointing’, but insisted he would not change course.
Speaking in Egypt on the last leg of his Middle East tour, the Prime Minister stressed that mid-term elections were ‘always difficult for incumbent governments’.
He said that ‘local factors’ had also played a part – code for the controversy surrounding the departures of former MPs Nadine Dorries and Chris Pincher.
Rishi Sunak was yesterday urged to cut taxes and return to traditional Tory values after stay-at-home Conservative voters handed Labour two devastating by-elections wins
The Prime Minister said that ‘local factors’ had also played a part – code for the controversy surrounding the departures of former MPs Nadine Dorries (pictured) and Chris Pincher
The Prime Minister said he would ‘keep on’ trying to deliver his five pledges, but would also ‘bring change’ in other areas, as he did on net zero last month.
Mrs Dorries hit back last night, branding Mr Sunak’s attempt to blame her as ‘pathetic’.
She posted on X: ‘A worthy leader owns it. He apologises and looks for a way to do better. What he doesn’t do is pathetically blame anyone or anything other than himself.’
Shell-shocked Tory MPs yesterday warned the Prime Minister that he now had to do much more to win back traditional supporters.
Former minister Dame Andrea Jenkyns said the Government needed to make ‘far-reaching major changes now to instil confidence in the Conservative voters’.
Sir John Redwood said voters wanted the Government ‘to stop the boats, improve the quality and efficiency of services and cut taxes to get some growth’.
Former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said voters were ‘angry with us because of the cost of living and taxation – they want to know they have a government that gets growth going and get taxes down’.
He added: ‘This will then allow us to talk about other things, like net zero and woke issues.’
Keir Starmer said Labour had ‘made history’ after romping home in the previously safe Tory seats of Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth. Pictured: Newly elected Labour candidate Alistair Strathern with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Newly elected Labour MP Sarah Edwards with party leader Sir Keir Starmer at Tamworth Football Club
Fellow Tory Danny Kruger also called for tax cuts as he urged the Prime Minister to be ‘more coherent, more robust and braver’.
Privately, some ministers called for the resignation of Tory party chairman Greg Hands.
Lib Dems humiliation
The Liberal Democrats suffered a disappointing night in Mid Bedfordshire as they came a distant third to Labour and the Tories.
The party had hoped to take the rural seat, after MP Nadine Dorries resigned, to add to their string of by-election victories.
Lib-Dem strategists stressed at last month’s party conference that they could smash the ‘Blue Wall’ – former Conservative strongholds – with Mid Bedfordshire next in their sights.
But the party’s candidate Emma Holland-Lindsay finished more than 3,000 votes behind Labour and the Tories. It prompted Lib-Dem officials to suggest that targeting a seat where they came third in 2019 was a step too far.
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.
‘We can play a crucial role in getting rid of this Conservative government.’
But Labour frontbencher Peter Kyle said: ‘The Lib Dems made a lot of noise and heat, but it never translated into action on the ground.’
In Tamworth, the Lib Dems finished joint sixth and lost their deposit.
One said: ‘Greg committed the worst sin of all – letting people believe we were going to win at least one of them almost right up until when we lost.’
Polling expert Sir John Curtice said the results were ‘extremely bad news’ for the Conservatives and could presage a 1997-style Labour landslide next year.
‘It is 12 months to go, this isn’t destiny, but it is a pointer that unless the Conservatives can fairly dramatically and fairly radically turn things around, then they are staring defeat in the face in 12 months’ time,’ he said.
Labour saw off stiff competition from the Liberal Democrats to achieve a 23.9 per cent vote swing in Tamworth, and a 20.5 per cent swing in Mid Bedfordshire. Sir Keir hailed the swings as ‘phenomenal results’ which showed the party was on track for government.
He said Labour was ‘redrawing the political map’ by taking seats which had been comfortably Conservative.
‘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,’ he added.
In Mid Befordshire, the seat previously vacated by former culture secretary Mrs Dorries, Labour’s Alistair Strathern came out on top in a three-way battle to win by 1,132 votes.
The largely rural constituency had a Tory MP since 1931 and has never been held by Labour in its century-long history. Sarah Edwards took victory in the Tamworth by-election, which was triggered when former chief whip Mr Pincher lost his appeal against a proposed suspension from the Commons for drunkenly groping two men.
The union organiser overturned a Tory majority of more than 19,000 to win the Staffordshire seat. Mr Hands acknowledged the results were disappointing but insisted there was no enthusiasm for Sir Keir among voters, and said there was still time for the Government to turn things round.