Boris Johnson hasn’t ‘lost star quality’ after swing towards Labour in Tory safe seat, Oliver Dowden insists

‘I am really not terribly worried about Labour,’ Tory chairman says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 03 December 2021 09:26
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Tory chairman Oliver Dowden has attempted to insist Boris Johnson hasn’t “lost any of his star quality” after the party won a by-election in a safe suburban seat, but suffered a dented majority and a 10-point swing towards Labour.

Results from the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election — triggered after the death of the former Conservative cabinet minister, James Brokenshire — showed the party’s candidate, Louie French, won more than half the votes.

But with a low turnout, the Tories’ majority was cut from almost 19,000 that Mr Brokenshire won at the 2019 general election, to 4,478.

More significantly, the party’s vote share was also reduced from 64 to 51 per cent — down 13 per cent — while Labour’s candidate, Daniel Francis, increased his party’s vote share by around seven per cent.

However, welcoming the Tories’ victory, Mr Dowden told Sky News he was “really not terribly worried about Labour”, insisting the vote was a “good result for a governing party mid-term”.

He added: “The idea that Labour have made some surge ahead is really for the birds. They’ve actually got about the same vote share as they secured under Jeremy Corbyn in 2017. Keir Starmer couldn’t even be bothered to turn up to the by-election, so I am really not terribly worried about Labour”.

Mr Dowden’s remarks come after weeks of divisions within the Conservative Party and Mr Johnson’s leadership over the botched attempt to prevent Owen Paterson’s suspension, scaled back reforms for social care, allegations of betrayal over transport infrastructure, and a shambolic speech to business leaders just last week.

Quizzed during a separate interview on Times Radio whether the shine was coming off Mr Johnson, the Tory chairman replied: “When I was up there with Boris he still had the same traffic stopping ability — literally.

“He tried to enter the campaign HQ at which point a load of teenage boys on the top of a red bus started shouting and screaming out of the window, people charged out from everywhere. I don’t think Boris has lost any of his star quality. But of course the government has to continue to improve its game.”

The winning candidate, a local councillor who wore Mr Brokenshire’s rosette on election night as a mark of respect for his predecessor, said the people of Old Bexley and Sidcup had sent “a clear message: they want an MP who will work with the government to deliver on their priorities”.

He added: “My focus will now be delivering on those promises that I made during the campaign - get our fair share of London’s police officers, securing more investment for local schools and hospitals, protecting our precious green spaces.”

Offering Labour’s verdict on the vote in the south-east London constituency, the shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves, who helped coordinate the party’s campaign, suggested she was “pleased” with the result.

“This is a Conservative stronghold, somewhere that had a 19,000 majority at the last general election and what we’ve seen tonight is that majority being slashed,” she said.

“There’s been a 10 per cent swing over to Labour this evening. We’ve been knocking on doors for weeks here and finding many, many Conservative voters that have said actually I’m not going to vote for them this time, I’m going to vote for Labour.

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