Sir Keir Starmer's week from hell gives the Tories hope again - even after double by-election defeats

16 February 2024, 14:16 | Updated: 16 February 2024, 17:59

Labour celebrate winning in Wellingborough but there is hope for the Tories
Labour celebrate winning in Wellingborough but there is hope for the Tories. Picture: Alamy
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Today's by-election results won't spook Downing Street as much as previous defeats did.

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CCHQ effectively cut their losses and did little to try and stem the flow of votes in Wellingborough and Kingswood.

The double loss, which was expected, will likely be forgotten next week, and the PM will return to his 'plan'.

That will mean head down, getting on with the job, but out and about as much as possible to meet voters and doubling down on Labour attacks.

In the hours since the results flowed in, a new bid to oust the PM has yet to emerge as the plotters had suggested may come this week.

A few more calls for tax cuts here, some demands to go tougher on immigration, there... plus ca change.

Only Andrea Jenkyns - with her letter already in - is calling for others to act now to oust him. A lone voice at the moment.

MPs will grumble off the record, but probably refrain from putting their heads above the parapet.

Sir Simon Clarke's intervention - squashed within hours by everyone including Liz Truss - has also helped to focus minds.

With no candidate, no plan, and not enough support for a change, on they plod.

But out of what was billed as a dreadful week for the prime minister on Monday (byelections, sticky inflation, a recession), some Conservatives and those at the heart of Government have found something they haven't had in a while - hope.

The mood in Downing Street, I'm told, is relatively chipper, with the start of an election strategy and some road-tested messages starting to take shape.

The PM will brush off the losses as "more work to do" - with a Budget on the horizon that will keep MPs at bay.

One senior adviser tells me: "He wants to give it everything he's got. And going long does give us more time to distance from the chaos of the past few years."

They don't believe the polls are right.

The PM will use the coming weeks and months to get in front of as many undecided voters as possible - buoyed by the stats from his recent GB news outing which showed he was able to win over half the room.

And Sir Keir Starmer has given them hope that all is not, totally, completely, lost.

A slight poll drop in support for Labour - albeit by just a few points - could be a chink of light in the darkness too.

The party's poor handling of their £28billion green u-turn and suspending two candidates over antisemitism allegations have given them a little ammo to play with.

Voters might not care about the ins and outs of such energy policy, but they do care about how their potential PMs handle themselves.

One Tory insider says: "They are making stupid mistakes and their political judgements have been terrible... when we get into the actual campaign these sorts of things can be fatal."

For LBC callers who have not yet made up their minds, some have expressed doubts about Sir Keir's leadership and what he really believes, following the last week.

They have seen a leader who has not made quick decisions, and in the case of Azhir Ali, taken too long to make the right ones.

In government they will have to be doing this day in, day out, making decisions and making the right ones.

Labour insiders admit the way things have been handled this week have been far from ideal, but hope that lessons are being learned now, to avoid those fatal blows in a campaign.

Their mistakes play into Tory attacks that Labour don't have a plan, and Sir Keir Starmer is 'flip flopper' and a risk for people to vote for him.

Next month's Budget - if the Chancellor can announce some tax cuts - it will give them more clear water to divide themselves from Labour.

Will any of this work?

I can't help but shake the feeling that we have approached the tipping point where nothing the Tories do can stop them from losing the next election.

The country are fed up and ready for an election - and a change.