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Record swing in Selby but Starmer faces ‘serious questions’ as Labour fails to take Uxbridge

Labour had been widely expected to overturn a 7,000 majority in the outer London seat, but candidate Danny Beales fell short

Archie Mitchell
Friday 21 July 2023 08:30 BST
Tory MP claims Labour 'nowhere near' ready for government

Rishi Sunak has been dealt two painful by-election blows, despite clinging onto Boris Johnson’s former seat – as Labour recorded its largest swing since 1997.

A Tory majority of more than 20,000 in Selby and Ainsty was overturned by Labour’s young Keir Mather, while in Somerton and Frome the Lib Dems also stormed to victory, overturning the Tories’ 19,000 majority with room to spare.

The race in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip went down to the wire with a recount in the early hours, but it was Mr Sunak’s party that clung on by just 495 votes.

But Sir Keir Starmer was dealt a blow as Labour failed to win a key by-election in Boris Johnson’s former constituency, Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

The party had been widely expected to overturn a 7,000 majority in the outer London seat, but candidate Danny Beales fell short.

He was beaten by Conservative Steve Tuckwell, who fought the campaign on a ticket almost exclusively opposing London mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (Ulez).

Despite the scheme’s unpopularity in the constituency, Labour figures were confident in the run up to the contest, while Tories were bracing for defeat.

But when the results were called, Mr Beales had secured 13,470 votes, compared to Mr Tuckwell’s 13,965. Mr Beales, who was the last candidate to arrive at the count, left immediately after hearing the result, while Mr Tuckwell delivered a victory speech.

New Tory MP Steve Tuckwell said he won because of Ulez (PA)

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed blamed Ulez for the loss, adding: “Clearly, it did resonate with a lot of people.” And he said those responsible for the policy will now need to "reflect".

Labour’s shadow leader of the House of Commons Thangam Debbonaire said: “We have had a disappointment this evening.”

On a mixed night of by-elections:

  • The Conservatives clung on to former PM Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat
  • The Liberal Democrats overturned a 19,000 Tory majority to win in Somerton and Frome
  • And Labour achieved its biggest by-election swing in history, winning in Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire. 

As the night unfolded for Sir Keir, his candidate in North Yorkshire’s Selby and Ainsty scored the biggest by-election scalp in Labour’s history, overturning a 20,137 Tory majority.

Sir Keir said it was a “historic moment” which showed voters were “looking at Labour and seeing a changed party” under his leadership.

Selby byelection winner and new Labour MP Keir Mather (PA)

Labour’s 25-year-old candidate Keir Mather said he "understood the enormity of what has just happened".

He said: "We have rewritten the rules on where Labour can win. People have opened their doors to us and embraced our positive vision for the future.

"The people of Selby & Ainsty have sent a clear message. For too long, Conservatives up here and in Westminster have failed us, and today that changes.

"Over the past few months, speaking to hundreds of people on the doorstep, I’ve encountered so much hardship. Hardship made worse by 13 years of negligence and complacency from the Conservatives."

The Liberal Democrats also landed a huge blow on Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, overturning a 19,000 majority to win in Somerton and Frome.

The heavy losses in both the south west of England and North Yorkshire will raise questions about whether the Conservatives can hold onto the support to form a government after the next election.

But Mr Sunak will be comforted by Sir Keir’s party failing to win in Uxbridge, despite a significant lead in the polls and the shadow of scandal-ridden former PM Mr Johnson hanging over the party.

Tory MP David Simmonds, who was at the count in Uxbridge, said it was a “stunning result” for the Conservatives that raised “serious questions” for Sir Keir. “Labour went in with a 40 per cent lead in the opinion polls, and it has come out as a Conservative hold,” he told The Independent.

Uxbridge and South Ruislip’s new MP Mr Tuckwell said he was the underdog “from the outset of the campaign”, adding: “The polls and the pundits predicted a big Labour win.”

Sarah Dyke, new Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome (PA)

And Mr Tuckwell said Labour MPs in outer London boroughs whose constituents will also be impacted by the expansion of Ulez will be “looking at the results with sweaty palms”.

Labour said it was “unsurprising” Ulez was such an issue for the party in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, but blamed the Conservatives for “crashing the economy”.

Labour spokesman said: “This was always going to be a difficult battle in a seat that has never had a Labour MP and we didn’t even win in 1997.

“We know that the Conservatives crashing the economy has hit working people hard, so it’s unsurprising that the ULEZ expansion was a concern for voters here in a by-election.”

Count Binface celebrates on stage as the results are read in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election (PA)

The race between Mr Beales and Mr Tuckwell was so close that ballots had to be recounted.

And Ms Debbonaire told Sky News that she was “glad we came a very close second” in what has traditionally been a safe Tory seat.

“It was always going to be a difficult battle,” she added.

The scale of the majorities overturned in Selby and Somerton pose serious questions for the prime minister, but clinging on in Uxbridge will allow him to claim a victory of sorts.

Sir Keir will want to keep the focus on Labour’s dramatic win in the North Yorkshire seat, but defeat in Uxbridge raises questions for the party.

Pollster and political analyst Lord Hayward told The Independent the Conservatives will be “extremely pleased” at holding onto Uxbridge.

And he said that Labour’s “striking” victory in Selby “is not going to cover up the reaction to Uxbridge”.

Lord Hayward also said the shock result in Uxbridge means there is “no certainty” Labour will triumph in the next election, despite holding a 20-point lead in the polls.

And he said the person with the most questions to answer will be Mr Khan, because “it was Sadiq what lost it”.

“Suddenly instead of all the attention being on three Tory losses, and therefore, on Rishi Sunak, the the concentration of attention will actually be on Labour… and Sadiq Khan in particular,” he said.

Luke Tryl, UK director of the More in Common group, said: “Uxbridge gives the Conservatives a short term sigh of relief and an expectations game win.

“But the scale of that Selby result means you’d far rather be Keir Starmer than Rishi Sunak right now, and the electoral playing field could well be quite a big one.”

And the Liberal Democrats are looking forward to enjoying their Somerton win, with leader Sir Ed Davey taking to Twitter last night to say “we’re going to need a bigger tractor”.

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