With Rishi Sunak facing mounting demands for tax cuts to woo back voters, a jubilant Labour leader said he wanted to ‘follow in the footsteps’ of the ex-PM as he posed alongside his new MPs in Mid Beds and Tamworth.
The loss of the true-blue strongholds has triggered a fresh wave of introspection among Conservatives, with even those in safe seats concerned about their prospects.
Although by-elections are not directly reflected at general elections, a swing of the scale seen overnight could theoretically reduce the Tories to 20 seats.
The PM has yet to respond to the shattering blows as he is in the Middle East on a diplomatic mission to stop the Israel crisis escalating.
Labour gained Mid Beds, which was vacated this summer by former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, for the first time in the constituency’s century-long history.
It was the largest majority in terms of votes overturned by Labour at a by-election since 1945, with an eye-watering swing of more than 20 per cent.
Sir Keir’s candidate also routed the Tories in Brexit-backing Tamworth, smashing the 19,600-vote cushion from the 2019 general election.
Giving a stump speech and doing media interviews, Sir Keir insisted he is remaining ‘humble’ despite polling experts saying the results put him on track for a landslide.
Asked by Sky News whether he was the ‘heir to Blair’, Sir Keir said: ‘Tony Blair won three times, produced a landslide victory for the Labour Party and allowed a Labour government to do incredible things for our country.
‘We face different times and we go forward to a different challenge in 2024.
‘But what I do want to do is follow in the footsteps of a leader of our party who took us from opposition into power.
‘That’s where these results are so important, as a step along that journey.’
Keir Starmer posed alongside new MP Alistair Strathern at a rally in Mid Beds as he claimed voters had shown they want a ‘change’ in No10
Sir Keir was cheered by rapturous supporters as he did his lap of honour after the results
The Labour leader moved straight on to celebrate in Tamworth. He insisted he was staying ‘humble’ but wanted to emulate Tony Blair
Rishi Sunak is on a tour of the Middle East trying to cool the Israel crisis as the by-election fallout erupts (pictured meeting Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani in Saudi Arabia this morning)
Tories responded to the by-election hammerings by urging Mr Sunak to bring forward policies that will convince former voters to return
Praising his new MP Alistair Strathern, Sir Keir said: ‘What a fantastic candidate… He has not only won here, he’s made history here over the past 24 hours. An incredible achievement already.’
Thanking Labour campaigners, he said: ‘Every vote that you persuaded to come across to us was worth it.
‘This is an incredible night in politics, an incredible morning, an incredible result here for so many reasons.
‘It is clear that the voters here have turned their back on a failed Tory Government. They’ve had enough of the decline of the last 13 years and they are crying out for change – positive change that the Labour Party can bring them.’
In its 105 years of existence, Labour had never won Mid Beds and were 24,664 votes behind the Tories at the 2019 general election.
Labour shadow cabinet minister Peter Kyle, who masterminded his party’s victory in Mid Bedfordshire, hailed a ‘political earthquake‘.
‘This is the biggest by-election shock in history, it is a political earthquake and it is one that is sending an unignorable message to Westminster and to Rishi Sunak that this country deserves better,’ he said.
Mr Strathern took the constituency with a majority of 1,192 votes over his Tory rival Festus Akinbusoye – who dramatically walked out of the count without listening to his rival’s victory speech.
Victory for Labour in Brexit-backing Tamworth saw the party overturn the Tories‘ 19,600-vote majority from the 2019 general election.
The swing from the Tories to Labour in the Staffordshire constituency was 23.9 percentage points, which is the second-largest managed by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
It was even bigger than the 23.7 percentage points that Labour achieved when winning the Selby and Ainsty by-election in July.
Polling guru Sir John Curtice pointed out that the change was in line with Labour’s 1996 by-election victory in the forerunner seat, and warned that Mr Sunak is ‘staring defeat in the face’.
The Tamworth contest was triggered by the resignation of former Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher after he was found to have drunkenly groped two men in a posh London club.
Labour candidate Sarah Edwards defeated Tory rival Andrew Cooper by a majority of 1,316 votes. He also made a swift exit from the count without listening to her speech.
Tory chair Greg Hands said he was ‘disappointed’ but blamed ‘specific circumstances’ in the constituencies and said their voters had simply stayed at home.
‘We need to think particularly about the fact that Conservative voters are not coming out to vote,’ he told Sky News.
One veteran Tory told MailOnline: ‘Normally by elections are protest votes, this appears to be protest non votes.’
Mr Sunak has been left reeling after he attempted to revive Tory fortunes with a recent policy blitz.
The PM has made announcements on Net Zero, the HS2 rail line, an A-levels shake-up, and a New Zealand-style smoking ban.
He has also overhauled his Downing Street team, but has yet to see much improvement in the Conservatives’ opinion polling.
There is now huge pressure to go ‘further and faster’ on issues such as tax, immigration and cracking down on ‘woke’ society.
Critics of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to consider tax cuts in the looming Autumn Statement were encouraged today by figures showing borrowing coming in lower than anticipated.
However, one former Cabinet minister urging a policy shift dismissed the idea that Mr Sunak’s position is under threat at this time.
Bemoaning the lack of a plausible replacement, they said: ‘Who is there?’
Labour’s Sarah Edwards will replace Chris Pincher as the local MP in Tamworth
Although by-elections are not directly reflected at general elections, a swing of the scale seen overnight could theoretically reduce the Tories to a rump of seats
Although he is now enjoying a solid lead, as recently as the end of 2021 Sir Keir was in charge of an Opposition that was trailing the Conservatives
By contrast Labour had spent more than four years ahead in the polls before Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide
Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns wrote on social media: ‘Voter apathy is evident yet again in both the #ByElections, low turnout -20k failed to turnout in Tamworth, 24k failed to turnout in Mid Beds since the last election.
‘We need to make far reaching major changes now to instil confidence in the Conservative voters.’
‘In the two by elections thousands of Conservative voters in 2019 stayed at home. The Labour vote was similar to 2019. Many people want the government to stop the boats, improve the quality and efficiency of services and cut taxes to get some growth.’
Danny Kruger, a member of the New Conservatives group, said Mr Sunak should be ‘braver’.
The MP for Devizes told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme he welcomed watering down of Net Zero goals, adding: ‘I think we need to continue in that direction and be more coherent, more robust and braver.
‘I think we need to go a bit further and faster. So on migration, I’m encouraged by the position on illegal migration. I think we now need to take further steps to reduce overall numbers of legal migration.
‘I’m concerned about some issues around the so-called culture wars, which I think do matter to people. In Parliament and the media they tend to be disregarded but actually these things matter.
‘So the guidance on sex education in schools, proposals around transgender, rights are significant and matter and they have real cut-through.
‘We need to be bolder on taxation than we have been but all of this is to play for and the instincts of the Government are in the right place.
‘I really do believe that the PM wants to do the right thing in this, I think he is constrained by opinion in Whitehall, in the Civil Service and to a degree on our benches as well. And I just encourage him to recognise that he gets a proper poll bounce and the support of our people when he leans into the great realignment in our politics that happened over the last 10 years, with the Brexit referendum and our victory in 2019.’
Ex-Cabinet minister John Redwood tweeted: ‘In the two by elections thousands of Conservative voters in 2019 stayed at home.
‘The Labour vote was similar to 2019. Many people want the government to stop the boats, improve the quality and efficiency of services and cut taxes to get some growth.’
Professor Sir John Curtice said the two by-election 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 said.
He warned 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’.
Reform secured 1,487 votes in Mid Bedfordshire and 1,373 in Tamworth, in both instances more than Labour’s majority over the Conservatives.