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  1. The Staggers
20 October 2023

Labour’s two by-election victories put the party in landslide territory

The Tories may now call an election as late as January 2025 as they bid to avoid one of the worst defeats in their history.

By Rachel Wearmouth

In one of the most remarkable nights in UK electoral history, the Conservatives have suffered two dramatic defeats to Labour in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire.

In the latter constituency, previously held by Nadine Dorries and never won by Labour, Keir Starmer’s party overcame a Tory majority of 24,664 – the largest numerical majority yet overturned. Meanwhile, in Tamworth, Labour achieved its second largest by-election swing since 1945 (23.9 per cent). 

Professor John Curtice, the polling expert, acknowledging Labour’s other recent by-election victories in Selby and Ainsty and Rutherglen and Hamilton West, said the UK was witnessing “a sequence of by-election swings of the kind that we had in the 1992 to 1997 parliament”, which ended with Labour winning a majority of 179 seats. If the swing in Tamworth was replicated at a general election, Labour would achieve a majority of 424 seats and the Conservatives would be left with just 29. While by-elections usually exaggerate opposition support, Labour continues to enjoy a double-digit national poll lead as high as 20 points.

Starmer said: “These are phenomenal results that show Labour is back in the service of working people & 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.”

After a fraught campaign in Mid Bedfordshire, in which Labour and the Liberal Democrats accused each other of dirty tactics, the Lib Dems congratulated Labour and said they had “played a crucial role in defeating the Conservatives” in some of the constituency’s villages.

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Tamworth, in Staffordshire, voted strongly in favour of Brexit and had awarded the Tories ever larger majorities since 2010. Sarah Edwards, the Unite organiser who won the seat for Labour, said Rishi Sunak should “do the decent thing” and call a general election. 

The results will intensify pressure on the prime minister as they confirm his failure to use the party conference season to revive the Tories’ fortunes. The Prime Minister had cancelled the northern leg of HS2 and reversed net-zero measures as a part of an attempt to separate himself from his predecessors and cast himself as a change candidate.

Speculation is now growing that the Conservatives may delay a general election until January 2025, the latest possible date available. Senior Tories had advised Sunak to call it in May 2024, as my colleague Andrew Marr reported, but the party’s continuing poll deficit may rule this option out.

While Labour MPs may complain that the party struggles to generate enthusiasm among voters, the country appears to have resolved that the Tories can no longer remain in office.

[See also: Who would win if an election was held today?]

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