'They are not very good results': Tory chairman admits after double by-election drubbings as MPs call for tax cuts

16 February 2024, 09:09 | Updated: 16 February 2024, 10:14

New Labour MPs Damien Egan and Gen Kitchen
New Labour MPs Damien Egan and Gen Kitchen. Picture: Alamy

By StephenRigley

Conservative party chairman Richard Holden admitted Thursday night's by-election battering were "not very good results" as Tories demanded tax cuts to win back furious voters.

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Labour seized the previously safe seats of Wellingborough and Kingswood in the latest pummelling for the PM overnight. 

Gen Kitchen turned a Conservative majority of more than 18,500 in Wellingborough into a Labour one of 6,436. The vote share swing of 28.5 percentage points was the second largest from Tory to Labour at a by-election since the Second World War.

In Kingswood, Damien Egan, the former mayor of Lewisham, secured a majority of 2,501 after overturning the 11,220 Conservative majority.

The Tories have now lost more by-elections since 2019 than any other government in a single term since the 1960s.

Reacting to the results, Conservative party chairman Richard Holden told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "There is no point in beating around the bush these are not good results but both very low turnouts and sitting governments do not generally perform well in by-elections."

However, he said the local context of the by-elections was "not ideal", with the poll in Wellingborough triggered by the ousting of disgraced former MP Peter Bone and in Kingswood Chris Skidmore stood down less than a year before the general election.

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Conservative Party Chairman Richard Holden | 16/02/24

Read More: Rishi Sunak suffers double by-election nightmare as Labour overturn massive majorities in Wellingborough and Kingswood

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Senior Conservatives highlighted the scale of the collapse in the party's support - bigger than the swing to Labour - and sounded alarm at surges by Reform UK as they called for immediate action from Mr Sunak. 

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Sir John Redwood are among the party grandees calling for sizable tax cuts to kick-start economic growth.

Hailing Labour’s record victories on Friday, Sir Keir Starmer said the results showed “people want change".

He said: "These are fantastic results in Kingswood and Wellingborough that show people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed Labour Party to deliver it.

"By winning in these Tory strongholds, we can confidently say that Labour is back in the service of working people and we will work tirelessly to deliver for them.

"The Tories have failed. Rishi's recession proves that. That's why we've seen so many former Conservative voters switching directly to this changed Labour Party.

"Those who gave us their trust in Kingswood and Wellingborough, and those considering doing so, can be safe in the knowledge that we will spend every day working to get Britain's future back."

Gen Kitchen overturned the Wellingborough Tory majority.
Gen Kitchen overturned the Wellingborough Tory majority. Picture: Alamy

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Rishi Sunak said by-elections had taken place in “particularly challenging circumstances” after Labour won both seats.

Following the double by-election defeat, Mr Sunak was asked whether he was more concerned about Reform UK or Labour and said: "A vote for anyone who isn't the Conservative candidate, whether that's Reform or anyone else, is just a vote to put Keir Starmer in power.

"That's the actual choice at the general election, between me and him, between the Conservatives and Labour.

"Now I believe our plan is working. At the start of this year we're heading in the right direction, taxes are coming down, inflation is falling, and if we stick with that plan we can deliver everyone a brighter future."

Ms Kitchen, the new MP for Wellingborough, said she was “ecstatic” with the result and that it shows people are “fed up” with the current political landscape.

She said: “I hope Damien [Egan, new Labour MP for Kingswood] is as ecstatic as I am, and I'm sure the Labour leadership will be as well.

"This shows that people are fed up, they want change, they want competency, they want pragmatism and they want politicians to under-promise and over-deliver, which is what I am hoping to do.

"It shows how much hard work we put in and the real positive message we were putting out. There is a real appetite for a fresh start and change."

Speaking to an LBC reporter, Ms Kitchen said some of her first moves as MP will be “making sure there’s an urgent care centre” in Wellingborough as well as improving its roads.

Newly elected Labour MP Damien Egan (centre) with Pat McFadden and Chris Bryant (right) surrounded by Labour party supporters after being declared winner in the Kingswood by-election
Newly elected Labour MP Damien Egan (centre) with Pat McFadden and Chris Bryant (right) surrounded by Labour party supporters after being declared winner in the Kingswood by-election. Picture: Alamy

It comes after Damien Egan took the seat in Gloucestershire which had been held by Tory MP Chris Skidmore since 2010.

He won 11,176 votes, while Tory candidate Sam Bromiley polled 8,675, giving Labour a majority of 2,501.

The turnout was 24,905, which is around 37.1% of eligible voters in the constituency.

The results have given a major boost to Labour despite the party’s recent turmoil over an anti-Semitism row that forced it to drop candidate Azhar Ali in the upcoming Rochdale by-election and backlash over the U-turn on its flagship £28 billion green pledge.

Labour's win means the Conservatives have now lost nine by-elections in the course of this parliament - one more than the eight defeats suffered by the 1992-97 Conservative administration led by John Major.

It means the Conservative government has lost more by-elections in a single parliament than any government since the 1960s.

The results will pile the pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak following the news yesterday that the UK entered recession at the end of 2023.

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Richard Tice's thoughts on Labour's double by-election win

In his winning speech, Mr Egan thanked campaigners and election workers, as well as his husband, agent, and residents of Kingswood.

"Your honesty, your frankness has helped keep my campaign rooted in the issues that are really impacting our community," he said.

Addressing national issues, he said: "In Kingswood, as across the country, 14 years of Conservative government have sucked the hope out of our country.

"There's a feeling that no matter how hard you work, you just can't move forward. And that with Rishi's recession, we're left again paying more and getting less.

"It doesn't have to be this way.

"And when the prime minister finally finds the courage to give the people a say, we're going to need each and every one of you again to come out and vote and make sure your voices are heard."

The Kingswood by-election was triggered by Chris Skidmore's resignation as an MP over legislation being introduced to boost North Sea oil and gas drilling.