Stunning victories for Labour - but does this mean a 1997 style Tory wipeout?

Keir Starmer stands with newly elected Labour MP Alistair Strathern in Mid Bedfordshire. Credit: PA

Increasingly the by-election results we are seeing look more like the run-up to 1997.

In fact, Tamworth used to have a different name - South East Staffordshire - and Tony Blair won it in 1996, before holding the newly named seat in the general election.

This time round, the result marks the safest seat ever being lost in a by-election.

And in Mid Bedfordshire, Labour won despite the Lib Dem's working incredibly hard and winning a large number of votes.

Anushka takes a look at what the results could mean for both the Conservatives and Labour ahead of a probable general election in 2024

These two results come after the remarkable swing in Selby & Ainsty. When my colleague, Lili Donlon-Mansbridge, and I searched for a comparable result to that - the closest swing we could find was - again - 1996.

By-elections a year out from 1991 (which were all won back when John Major won his unexpected majority in 1992) were half the swing.

Conservative MPs will be looking on aghast

At conference, they comforted themselves with one mantra - that I heard again and again. They argued they were finding no enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer on the doorstep - and said that was in contrast to the wild enthusiasm for Blair in 1997.

But one Tory MP had a different take. They said to me that an expert had told them to stop thinking about 1997 (Labour's landslide) versus 1992 (Tories hanging on) but instead to think about 1997 and 1979. What did they have in common?

The public were totally fed up with the government and wanted change. It is true that Tony Blair was hugely popular - but Margaret Thatcher was not - and she still won a comfortable majority.

The Tories will point to the hugely suppressed votes in these by-elections and argue that Tory voters will come back at the election - many will, but there is a word of warning here too.

A lot of Tories stayed at home in 1997. In fact, Blair got a slightly smaller popular vote than Major had five years earlier.

Conservatives staying at home is a big problem.

What can the Tories hold onto?

A couple of things. They are reassuring themselves that the Labour vote didn't rise hugely but instead this was their vote falling.

And it is true that there remains a large number of 'don't knows' in the polling. Many of them voted Conservative in 2019 and still lean that way now.

But Rishi Sunak has an uphill struggle in trying to not just prevent them switching to Labour but also not staying at home.

His biggest comfort may be this- even if Keir Starmer achieved a Tony Blair sized swing in the next general election- which remains a very tough feat- his lower starting point means that wouldn't deliver Starmer a landslide but a majority of just two.

One thing that has changed hugely are people's expectations. A year or two out from the 2015 election I went to a dinner with senior business people when Ed Miliband was far ahead in the polls - but when I asked who they thought would be PM in late 2015 - every single one said David Cameron.

When I had another business dinner this week - every single one predicted Keir Starmer.