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The Labour party has seized a previously safe Conservative party seat in England in an ominous blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of a UK general election expected next year.
Labour, Britain’s main opposition party, won the by-election in Tamworth in the West Midlands with 11,719 votes for candidate Sarah Edwards against 10,403 for the Conservatives, with a low turnout.
The Conservatives previously enjoyed a huge majority of 19,634 in Tamworth, making it their 57th safest seat in the country. The swing of 23.9 per cent from the Conservatives to Labour was the second highest since the 1940s.
Labour’s victory has historic resonance given it previously won the seat — then called South East Staffordshire — in a by-election in 1996, one year before the party’s landslide win in the 1997 general election.
But Labour lost the seat in 2010 and the Tory majority subsequently increased, in part due to heavy local support for Brexit.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, hailed the result: “This is a phenomenal result that shows Labour is back in the service of working people and redrawing the political map.”
The by-election was precipitated by scandal with Chris Pincher, the former Tory MP, quitting Parliament after losing his appeal against an eight-week suspension from the House of Commons for groping two men last year.
Craig Tracey, Tory MP for nearby North Warwickshire, said the turnout of 35.9 per cent was “disappointing”, adding: “There was always a sense that there might be a little bit of voter apathy out there.”
But he insisted his campaigners were “not finding a lot of love for Keir Starmer” on doorsteps in Tamworth.
Sir Robert Buckland, a former Tory cabinet minister, urged people not to read too much into a potential loss by his party: “Be careful about overplaying this idea that people made a switch because they have made a decision about the general election.”
Labour figures were also sounding cautiously optimistic in the early hours of Friday about their chances in a separate by-election in Mid-Bedfordshire, a supposedly even safer Tory seat.
Mid-Beds, under Conservative control since 1931, had a Tory majority of 24,664 under former MP Nadine Dorries.
“It’s looking good for us,” said Peter Kyle, the shadow cabinet minister running Labour’s campaign in the constituency, at 1.35am.
Dorries, former culture secretary and a key ally of ex-prime minister Boris Johnson, quit in August with a withering attack on Sunak for presiding over a “zombie parliament”.
Labour’s efforts in Mid-Beds were undermined by a strenuous attempt by the Liberal Democrats to seize the seat.
However Christine Jardine, a Lib Dem MP, insisted the party’s campaigning had contributed to a good result for Labour. “The votes we have gained from the Conservatives have helped,” she said.
The Conservative party has been defeated in a string of by-elections in various parts of the country in recent years, with an unusual number of the contests caused by resignations for misconduct.
Only once during this Parliament have the Tories taken a seat from another party in a by-election, when they won Hartlepool from Labour in May 2021.