All three leading political parties are turning their attention to next year’s general election after a mixed bag of results from Thursday’s ballot box contests.
The Conservatives managed to hold former prime minister Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip overnight, with Rishi Sunak saying the victory showed the next national vote was “not a done deal”.
However, despite the win saving him from the embarrassment of losing three by-elections in one night, the party’s majority fell from more than 7,000 to just 495 – a swing of 6.7% to Labour – and the success was put down to the local issue of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), rather than the PM’s own policy platform.
Politics latest: Your by-election questions answered
Labour has seen a row erupt in its ranks after missing out on arguably the most winnable seat of the night, with its leader Sir Keir Starmer calling on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to “reflect” on the outcome of the vote.
But having secured a surprise victory in the North Yorkshire seat of Selby and Ainsty, overturning the Tories’ huge 20,137 majority – the largest to ever be reversed at a by-election – Sir Keir said there had been “a cry for change” in the voting booths, promising his party would deliver.
The Liberal Democrats had their own significant win in the South West, taking the seat of Somerton and Frome, despite its previous 19,000 Tory majority.
Their leader, Sir Ed Davey, said he was “confident” his party could hold onto the seat at the general election too, claiming voters “feel the Conservatives have forgotten what it’s like to live in rural areas”.
The date of the election has not yet been set, but parliamentary rules mean the latest Mr Sunak could call it would be January 2025 – with rumours suggesting it could come as early as next spring.
The triple by-election evening was seen by many analysts as a warm-up for the main event.
Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby said the results wouldn’t give the Conservatives much confidence that they were on course to avoid going under at the next general election.
With the swings of 23.7% to Labour in Selby and Ainsty and 29% swing to the Lib Dems in Somerton and Frome, the figures showed opposition parties were performing at levels matching by-election results in the dying days of Sir John Major’s government – which ended with Labour’s Sir Tony Blair winning a landslide in 1997.
Labour will need a 12% swing nationwide to gain 124 seats and win a majority at the next contest.
But Beth Rigby said there were hopes in the Tory ranks that if the PM can pin the opposition on issues of substance – such as ULEZ – there was an opportunity to create dividing lines between Labour and the Tories that give Mr Sunak a fighting chance.
For today, however, the freshly elected MPs will be focused on their own new jobs in the Commons – although they will have to wait until the end of the summer recess to take their seats.
The Tory winner of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Steve Tuckwell, has big shoes to fill, taking over Mr Johnson’s former seat after his shock resignation last month, having been found to have mislead parliament over partygate.
But Mr Tuckwell said he was “proud” to represent the area he grew up in and the “hard work starts today”.
Selby and Ainsty’s first Labour MP, Keir Mather, replaces outgoing Tory MP Nigel Adams – a close ally of Mr Johnson who decided to quit shortly after the former PM, giving Mr Sunak another by-election to contend with.
At 25, Mr Mather will be the youngest MP in the Commons – nicknamed “the baby of the House” – but he said it was time for “a fresh start” in the constituency.
And Sarah Dyke, the new Lib Dem MP for Somerton and Frome, replaces former Tory MP David Warburton, who stood down after admitting to taking cocaine and following accusations of sexual harassment, which he denies.
The local councillor said her victory showed her party were “back in the West Country”, and promised to her constituents: “I will not let you down.”