Labour has dealt a double by-election blow to Rishi Sunak by overturning huge Tory majorities in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire.
Sir Keir Starmer claimed Labour was “redrawing the political map” by taking seats which had been comfortably Conservative ahead of the general election expected next year.
In Tamworth, Labour’s Sarah Edwards defeated Tory Andrew Cooper by a majority of 1,316.
The Conservatives were defending a 19,634 majority, but a 23.9 percentage point swing to Labour saw that eradicated.
The result, announced shortly at 2.45am, was the second-highest ever by-election swing to Labour.
Just half-an-hour later, there was even better news for Sir Keir as Mid Bedfordshire saw the largest majority overturned by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
The Tories had held Mid Bedfordshire since 1931, with a 24,664 Conservative majority in 2019.
But Alistair Strathern took the seat with a majority of 1,192 over his Tory rival Festus Akinbusoye, with a swing of 20.5 percentage points to Labour.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “These are phenomenal results that show Labour is back in the service of working people and 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.
“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.
“To those who have given us their trust, and those considering doing so, Labour will spend every day acting in your interests and focused on your priorities. Labour will give Britain its future back.”
Mr Strathern said his victory showed “nowhere is off limits for this Labour Party” while Ms Edwards challenged the Prime Minister to call a general election.
“My message to the Prime Minister is get in your government car, drive to Buckingham Palace, do the decent thing and call a general election,” she said.
Both contests were triggered by the high-profile departures of their previous MPs.
Former cabinet minister Nadine Dorries quit – eventually – as Mid Bedfordshire’s MP in anger at being denied a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list.
In Tamworth, Chris Pincher resigned after being found to have drunkenly groped two men in an “egregious case of sexual misconduct” at London’s exclusive Carlton Club last year – an incident which helped trigger Mr Johnson’s exit from No 10 because of his handling of the situation.
The Conservatives sought to portray the by-elections as mid-term blips, exacerbated by the difficulties surrounding the previous MPs.
But elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said the two results were “extremely bad news” for the Conservatives and suggested Mr Sunak was on course for general election defeat.
“This isn’t destiny, but it is a pointer and it is a pointer that, unless the Conservatives can fairly dramatically and fairly radically turn things around, then they are in truth staring defeat in the face in 12 months’ time.”
He warned the Tories risked seeing votes drift to Labour on the left and Reform UK on the right.
Reform secured 1,487 votes in Mid Bedfordshire and 1,373 in Tamworth, in both instances more than Labour’s majority over the Conservatives.
Prof Curtice told the BBC: “No government has hitherto lost to the principal opposition party in a by-election a seat as safe as Tamworth.”
He added that the Tories “may get caught in a pincer movement between some of their former Leave voters wandering off to Labour but others going off to Reform UK”.
The Tamworth result echoes Labour’s victory in a by-election in its predecessor constituency South East Staffordshire in 1996.
The Conservatives went into that contest defending a large majority only to see Labour win the seat on a swing of 22.1 percentage points before a general election landslide the following year – a result Sir Keir would dearly like to repeat.
Tory former cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland said Mr Sunak’s party now needed to focus on the issues that mattered most to voters rather than infighting about who could succeed the party leader.
He told the BBC: “I think that as Conservatives, we now need to make it very clear what the next five years is going to look like, and that’s what I’m looking for from the Prime Minister and our leaders.
“I’m not looking for academic arguments about issues that are not going to swing voters. I’m looking for serious, grown-up approaches to the issues that really matter – on the economy, on housing, on the future for our young people.
“We’ve got some good Conservative answers to these issues. Let’s hear them and let’s hear nothing else in the next 12 months.”
Mr Sunak was out of the country as the by-election results came in, spending the night in Saudi Arabia on a tour of the Middle East in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel.
The results were announced a year to the day after Mr Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss resigned as prime minister and leaves him with a headache as he ends his first 12 months in post.
In Mid Bedfordshire the Liberal Democrats came third, and claimed their ability to switch Tory voters cleared the way for Labour’s victory.
Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “We nearly doubled our share of the vote which would see the Lib Dems win dozens of seats off the Conservatives in a general election.
“The Liberal Democrats played a crucial role in defeating the Conservatives in Mid Bedfordshire, and we can play a crucial role in getting rid of this Conservative Government at the next election.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub