After suffering two by-election losses in constituencies that were seen as secure for the Conservatives, Sir Keir Starmer claimed that voters had let out a “cry for change.”
After the Tories narrowly managed to hold onto Boris Johnson’s former Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, Rishi Sunak insisted on Friday that the next general election is not a “done deal.”
With victories overturning majorities of about 20,000 in Selby and Ainsty and victories for the Liberal Democrats in Somerton and Frome, respectively, polling experts predicted “deep electoral trouble” for the Conservatives.
The Prime Minister, however, was not altering his strategy and, as he grabbed a narrow victory in west London, vowed to “double down” on his current policies to win over the public.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of the nation’s capital and a member of his own party, was given some of the blame for the failure to win that seat by Sir Keir due to his increase of the Ulez charge on high-pollution vehicles.
After new Tory MP Steve Tuckwell described the vote as a referendum on the toll, the Labour leader said the London mayor should “reflect” on the issue.
In stark contrast to the former prime minister’s 7,210-vote advantage, the councillor won by a mere 495 votes.
25-year-old Keir Mather will join the Commons as the youngest MP after defeating a 20,137-vote margin to win Selby and Ainsty by 4,161 votes.
The 23.7 percentage point swing from the Conservatives to Labour is the second-largest swing that Labour has managed at a by-election since 1945.
In order to celebrate the “historic” victory at Selby Town Football Club, Sir Keir travelled to the North Yorkshire constituency, which is close to Mr. Sunak’s seat.
He told supporters it was the “biggest majority we’ve ever turned over in the history of the Labour Party”.
“You voted for change. You put your trust in the Labour Party, and we hear you,” he said.
“We hear that cry for change away from the chaos, away from those rising bills, the crumbling public services – a cry for change and we will deliver.”
Mr. Sunak went to the Rumbling Tum Cafe in Ruislip with Mr. Tuckwell to celebrate the lone piece of good news following a difficult night.
The Prime Minister told broadcasters: “By-elections, mid-terms for an incumbent Government are always difficult. They rarely win them.
“The message I take away is that we’ve got to double down, stick to our plan and deliver for people. That’s what I heard when I was out on the doorsteps and that’s what we’re going to do.
“We’re going to work incredibly hard to deliver on our five priorities and earn people’s trust for the next election.”
He claimed that the Conservatives had a chance of winning the general election anticipated for the next year by hanging onto the seat.
Mr Sunak said: “Westminster’s been acting like the next election is a done deal. The Labour Party has been acting like it’s a done deal, the people of Uxbridge just told all of them that it’s not.”
A 19,213-vote Tory majority in Somerton and Frome was reduced to an 11,008-vote advantage for the Lib Dems, giving new MP Sarah Dyke a victory margin.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey claimed the outcome demonstrated his party was once again gaining support in its previous West Country stronghold during a victory visit to Frome.
“It’s time to end this shameful spectacle. It’s time for a general election to end this Conservative circus,” he told supporters.
With the triumph, Sir Ed has become the first party leader to win four by-elections since Paddy Ashdown in the 1990s.
Despite Labour’s victory in North Yorkshire, its loss in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London has sparked a blame-game among senior figures regarding Mr. Khan’s proposal to extend the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to include surrounding boroughs.
Sir Keir said: “Uxbridge was always going to be tough. We didn’t take Uxbridge in 1997 and we knew Ulez was going to be an issue.
“And of course we all need to reflect on that, including the mayor needs to reflect on that.”
Mr Khan said he was “disappointed” Labour did not win, but welcomed the swing towards Labour and said his Ulez decision was a “tough one, but the right one”.
Danny Beales, a Labour candidate, distanced himself from the proposal, saying it was “not the right time” to increase the £12.50 daily fee for vehicles that don’t meet emissions regulations.
A party insider termed the loss in the seat “Uloss” as a sign of the discomfort with Mr. Khan’s strategy.
Mr. Tuckwell claimed in his victory speech that Mr. Khan was to blame for Labour’s loss of the seat, stating: “It was his damaging and costly Ulez policy that lost them this election.”
Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of Labour, and Steve Reed, the shadow justice minister, agreed that it had an impact on the election and urged Mr Khan to reconsider.
Mr Reed told the PA news agency: “I think those responsible for that policy will need to reflect on what the voters have said and whether there’s an opportunity to change.”
The results of the by-elections, which show the Conservatives are 21 percentage points behind, are consistent with the national polling, according to polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice, who claimed that this indicates the Tories are in “deep electoral trouble.”
While history is not obligated to repeat itself, he pointed out the similarities to the lead-up to the Labour victory in 1997 and told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Tories face challenges unless they can make a turnaround.
However, he argued that Labour has to consider why its support among voters is “apparently so weak” given that they “don’t perform as they should” when a local issue like Ulez arises.
The defeats for Mr. Sunak occurred as lawmakers started to leave for the summer break, complicating any plots against him by worried coworkers.
There had been rumours that Mr. Sunak may try to quickly restart his administration by rearranging the Cabinet on Friday, but Downing Street insiders made it abundantly clear that this was not the case.