Government slumps to by-election defeats, as Tories accused of misreading public mood on green issues

    Government slumps to by-election defeats, as Tories accused of misreading public mood on green issues

    The government last night slumped to two by-election defeats, as Labour enjoyed the kind of electoral swing that suggests it remains on track for a sizeable victory at the next election.

    In Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire Labour overturned huge majorities to win in both seats, as the Conservative vote collapsed.

    Nadine Dorries’ 24,664 vote majority in Mid Bedfordshire was turned into a 1,192 vote majority for Labour’s Alistair Strathern on a 20.5 per cent swing, in what is thought to be the largest numerical majority to be overturned since 1945.  

    In Tamworth, a swing of 23.9 percentage points saw Labour’s Sarah Edwards overturn the near 20,000 vote majority enjoyed by the Conservative’s Chris Pincher in 2019.

    Labour leader Keir Starmer said the Party’s victory in what should have been safe seats for the government confirmed the opposition was “redrawing the political map”.

    “Winning in these Tory strongholds shows that people overwhelmingly want change and they’re ready to put their faith in our changed Labour party to deliver it,” he said. “Voters across Mid Bedfordshire, Tamworth and Britain want a Labour government determined to deliver for working people, with a proper plan to rebuild our country.”

    Campaigners and political analysts said the results suggested the government’s attempts to draw a dividing line with Labour on environmental issues, following the Conservative’s narrow victory in the Uxbridge by-election earlier this summer, was struggling to cut through with votes.

    “These historic byelection results are a brutal reality check for the Prime Minister,” said Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom. “Sunak’s cynical attack on climate action, his ditching of green policies, and attempts to drag net zero into his culture war strategy have failed to shift the dial with voters.

    “He has embarrassed Britain abroad, destabilised business investment, confused consumers, misled ordinary people about the real causes of rising bills, and failed in basic morality by backtracking on climate commitments – all for a supposed short-term electoral benefit that hasn’t materialised.”

    She added that recent polling suggested that in seats right across the country a substantial majority of voters wanted to see more ambitious environmental policies.  

    “Two thirds of people in Tamworth and over two thirds in Mid Beds said that climate policies will influence how they vote, in a recent poll,” she said. “The warning signs were there. All of the wrong lessons were taken from Uxbridge. If the government wants to avoid further humiliation at next year’s general election, and Labour want to continue seeing victories like those seen last night, they had better learn the right ones from Mid Beds and Tamworth.”

    Writing on social media platform X, political scientist Rob Ford questioned whether the government would now rethink its electoral strategy having decided in the wake of the Uxbridge by-election that concern over the financial impact of green policies could be weaponised.

    “Will these results be enough to finally convince some Tory strategists and commentators that Uxbridge was an outlier and that running against the green transition or attacking the “war on motorists” is not, in fact, going to deliver an electoral comeback?” he asked.

    Former Conservative MP and advisor Gavin Barwell similarly warned that Number 10 had drawn the wrong lessons from by-election results earlier in the summer, where the Conservatives won in Uxbridge but lost previously safe seats in Selby and Somerton.

    “Back in July, everyone focused on Uxbridge,” he wrote. “Conclusions were drawn even though it was clear at the time it was down to a *local* issue and Selby and Somerton were more likely to represent the national mood. Tamworth and Mid Beds confirm that was a serious mistake.”

    Writing on X, Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive at trade body Energy UK, said: “Reminded of all the focus group results I’ve ever seen which suggests the British public, in all demographics, in all regions, supports ambition on climate policy. I have never seen data to suggest negativity on net zero would turn out any voters.”

    Meanwhile, Conservative spokespeople noted that both by-elections were triggered in controversial circumstances, after Dorries resigned her seat and Pincher was suspended. The Party also noted that a low turnout in both seats meant Labour had won despite little numerical change in its vote.

    “I think there’s a lot of fury about the background to the by-elections, what had caused those by-elections,” Conservative Party chair Greg Hands told the BBC. “I think we had a very good campaign, we had good candidates, we just need to find a way of incentivising Conservatives to turn up to vote next year at the general election.”

    Sam Hall of the Conservative Environment Network urged the government to rethink its stance on environmental issues, arguing Ministers should be doing more to promote their achievements on an agenda that remains popular with the public.

    “These are very disappointing by-election results for Conservatives,” he wrote on X. “While there is no evidence that the Prime Minister’s recent changes to net zero policies have caused the defeats, it is clear that they haven’t prevented them.

    “Nor have they motivated 2019 Conservative voters to turn out in sufficient numbers. The party needs to reappraise the lessons it drew from the Uxbridge by-election, which was in truth a specific rejection of ULEZ expansion rather than environmental policy more broadly. 

    “The environment is one of the greatest areas of achievement of Conservative governments since 2010. It’s not too late to build on this by taking bold steps on climate change and nature now and by setting out a positive vision for the environment at the next election.”

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