By-elections: Double defeat for Tories but Sunak says general election 'not a done deal'

Rishi Sunak avoided a triple by-election defeat, but the results are still a cause for significant concern within the Tory Party, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports

Rishi Sunak's Conservative Party has been dealt a double by-election blow as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats overturned significant Tory majorities, but the PM has insisted the general election is "not a done deal".

Labour secured an historic gain in the traditionally Tory constituency of Selby and Ainsty, while the Liberal Democrats celebrated winning back Somerton and Frome.

Both opposition parties overturned Conservative majorities of around 20,000, with Sir Keir Starmer dubbing Labour's historic victory in Selby and Ainsty "a cry for change".

The silver lining for Mr Sunak was a narrow hold in Boris Johnson's former Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, which became a 'battleground' over the ULEZ extension.

By-election results

  • Selby and Ainsty - Labour win with 4,161 majority - a 23.7% swing from Conservatives, overturning a Tory majority of 20,137

  • Somerton and Frome - Liberal Democrats win by more than 10,000 majority - a 29% swing from Conservatives, overturning a Tory majority of 19,213

  • Uxbridge and South Ruislip - Conservatives win with 495 majority - a 6% swing from Conservatives to Labour but not enough for a Labour win

How significant are these results? Robert Peston and election analyst Colin Rallings look at what could happen next

In Selby and Ainsty, a traditionally safe Tory seat, 25-year-old Keir Mather will now become the youngest MP in the House of Commons after overturning a significant Tory majority of 20,137.

The 23.7% swing from Conservative to Labour is the second largest managed by Labour at a by-election since 1945, with the Party leader Sir Keir Starmer saying it is a "cry for change away from the chaos, away from those rising bills" and "the crumbling public services".

The general election is 'not a done deal', insists PM Rishi Sunak

Supported by shadow Cabinet ministers and Labour voters at Selby Town FC, Sir Keir said: "Today is a day of firsts. I'm the first leader to say Labour Selby and Ainsty, ever.

"The first time we've won here is the first time we've overturned a 20,000 majority, the biggest majority we've ever turned over in the history of the Labour Party." Joking on stage that "it was great to be in the middle of a Keir sandwich", Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner said to voters "we will make sure that we make you proud so that you will vote for Keir come the general election and get both these Keirs into Parliament again, and get this Keir as prime minister."

Incoming MP Keir Mather, 25, said it is the "absolute privilege of my life" to serve.

Newly elected Labour MP Keir Mather (centre), with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner. Credit: PA

Change in vote share since 2019 general election

Credit: PA/Flourish
Credit: PA/Flourish
Credit: PA/Flourish

25-year-old Mather has received criticism for his young age, with Conservative MP Johnny Mercer comparing him with the "Inbetweeners" on Sky News.

Defending comments that he will soon become the "baby of the House", Mr Mather told journalists he has "heard far worse".

Asked about concerns he lacks life experience, he said: "Well, I'm a taxpayer too, I feel the pressures like anyone else."

Sir Keir Starmer speaks on the "silly sod" critcising Mather's age on the radio

Sir Keir was captured telling Mather after critcism from a radio host over his age: "The answer is you're 25 and made history... And he's whatever age he is and he'll soon be history."

Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner said "no-one could believe that we could win in a place like Selby", but argued people have "turned to Labour and seen that we're offering something different".

Meanwhile, in Somerton and Frome, the Liberal Democrats see their win as a strong sign the Party is re-gaining votes in its former West Country heartland.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said people in the constituency spoke for the rest of the country "who are fed up with Rishi Sunak's out-of-touch Conservative government".

Joking after the announcement, he said: "Wow, I'm really starting to like by-elections!"

Celebrating the decisive result in Frome on Friday morning, Sir Ed said the win was "nothing short of spectacular" while standing in front of a mock confetti canon labelled 'Get these clowns out of No 10!'

Labour's Selby and Ainsty win a 'cry for change', says Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer

The saving grace for Rishi Sunak was the Conservative hold, albeit very slim, in Boris Johnson's former constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Visiting after the result, Mr Sunak insisted the 495 vote majority was evidence the Tories can still win a general election.

Mr Sunak said to journalists: "Westminster's been acting like the next election is a done deal, the Labour Party's been acting like it's a done deal. The people of Uxbridge just told them that it's not.

"No-one expected us to win here but Steve's victory demonstrates that when confronted with the actual reality of the Labour Party, when there's an actual choice with a matter of substance at stake, people vote Conservative."

Labour's Angela Rayner suggested Labour failed to take Mr Johnson's old seat because concerns over the controversial ULEZ expansion were "an issue on the door".

'Wow - I'm really starting to like by-elections', says Lib Dem Leader Sir Ed Davey in Frome

She said: "It's a challenge for both Labour and the Conservatives, and not just in London, about how we can put forward a scheme that allows people to go for greener cars and better vehicles... and also enables them to do that without a financial penalty".

Labour's candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Danny Beales, initially expressed his support for the expansion of the tax on polluting vehicles.

He later changed his position to win over voters, putting pressure on the Labour Party to adopt a clear stance on the charge, backed by the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Labour's defeat in the seat was dubbed "Uloss" by a party insider, while the newly elected Conservative MP Steve Tuckwell placed the blame firmly on Mr Khan.

"It was his damaging and costly Ulez policy that lost them this election," he said.

"This wasn't the campaign Labour expected and Keir Starmer and his mayor Sadiq Khan need to sit up and listen to the Uxbridge and South Ruislip residents."

We have to 'continue with that, to prove that the Party has changed' - Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner says the Party must not be complacent after its by-election win

Responding to the results on Friday morning, the Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands said he was "disappointed" by two of the results, but put Tory losses down to voters staying at home.

But the "standout result", he insisted, was the Tories retaining Boris Johnson's old Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.

Speaking to ITV News, he said: "The really standout result overall, that has defied everybody's expectations, Labour were already measuring the curtains, was the Conservatives winning in Uxbridge with Steve Tuckwell, our magnificent local candidate defying those expectations."

"It's a fantastic come-from-behind victory," he added.

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip result was the 'standout result' of the three by-elections, argues Tory Chair Greg Hands

The sizable swings recorded in both Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome will be cause for alarm among Tory MPs hoping to defend their seats across the country in the next general election - due before January 2025.

In Selby and Ainsty, a 23.7% swing from the Conservatives helped Labour overturn its highest majority ever, according to the Party.

If it was to replicate that across the country in the next general election, it could result in Labour winning more seats than 1997 - when Tony Blair secured a landslide majority with 43.2% of the public vote.

Tory Chair Mr Hands claimed his party's Selby defeat was predominantly caused by voters staying at home.

Speaking to GB News he said the Party is clearly "disappointed" but added: "What I would say is that result was driven largely by Conservative voters, previous Conservative voters, staying home.

"Clearly we've got work to do to win back the trust and confidence, we don't deny that.

"Rishi Sunak has been in office now for nine months working very hard against the five priorities of halving inflation, restoring growth, reducing debt, cutting hospital waiting lists and stopping the boats. That is still work in progress.

"We'll be fighting hard to regain that constituency next year."

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