Rishi Sunak looks like a dead man walking as he loses votes to both the left and right, says Alistair Thompson

Richi Sunak delivers Spring Statement 2022

Even by by-election standards, last night’s results were a disaster for the Conservative Government. Losing Tamworth, a bell weather seat, whose MP resigned after an eight-week suspension for drunkenly groping two men, is one thing, but to lose the ultra-safe Mid-Bedfordshire, is cataclysmic.

The swing to Labour in Tamworth was just a shade under 24 per cent and in Mid-Bedfordshire over 20 per cent.

But these bleak figures, show something else, something that should be alarming the strategists at CCHQ. Firstly the Party haemorrhaged votes directly to the left or to Labour.

This was no ordinary protest vote, the sort that sees the Liberal Democrats, the masters of by-election shocks win the day. No voters switched directly from Conservatives to Labour. From the Party of the Government to the Party which is likely to form the next Government and in quite spectacular way.

In Tamworth Labour’s vote share jumped by over 22 per cent, while in Mid-Bedfordshire it was a more modest 12.4 per cent increase.

These figures suggest that Conservative hopes that Sir Kier will be dismissed as just seen “another leftie London lawyer” who’s out of touch with ordinary working-class people, the sort who abandoned Labour to flock to Boris Johnson in 2019, are failing to materialise.

They also suggest that the Conservative Party’s attempt to rebrand Rishi Sunak as the engine of change and the new kid on the block, were a spectacular miscalculation that voters are not buying.

Something Keir Starmer, gave a nod to in comments made after the scale of yesterday’s victories became clear.

“These are phenomenal results that show Labour is back in the service of working people and redrawing the political map,” he said.

“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.”

The second problem for the PM is the figures show a second front. Ever since agreeing to the EU referendum, some Conservatives argued that UKIP, the Brexit Party and Reform UK, were spent forces. The Tory right flank was safe, meaning they could merely include a few lines in the PM’s conference speech around the culture wars and that was enough, while ignoring both fiscal and social conservatives.

This now appears to have been a terrible miscalculation, because the number of votes picked up by Richard Tice’s Reform UK party were bigger than the Labour majorities both Tamworth and Mid-Bedfordshire.

This means that if Reform voters, who are overwhelmingly disgruntled Conservative, or small ‘c’ conservative, had continued to back the Tories, Labour could have been denied both of its victories.
Reform won 1,373 votes in Tamworth (or a 5.4 per cent share), while Labour’s majority was 1,316. And in Mid Bedfordshire, Reform UK secured 1,487 votes (or a 3.7 per cent), while Labour majority was 1,192 votes.

If Reform UK can repeat this result at the General Election, securing a similar vote share then dozens of seats could be impacted.

How will the PM and his advisers respond is the big unknown but given his Chancellors comments about no tax cuts prior to the election, one important avenue to appeal to these disillusioned conservatives has already been closed down and it seems unlikely he will do anything to reach out to the social conservatives in the short term.

Failing to appeal to both groups will be disaster for the electoral chances of the Conservative Party and why, based on these results and recent poll, it appears that the writing is on the wall for Rishi Sunak.

Alistair Thompson

Alistair Thompson is the Director of Team Britannia PR and a journalist.