Voters head for the polls in Selby and Ainsty by-election
Rishi Sunak is braced for a possible triple by-election blow after polls closed in contests that will be viewed as a test of his leadership.
As counting began, one senior Tory said it would be “disastrous” for the Conservatives if they lost in every constituency up for grabs.
Losses for the Tories in all three seats would be the first time in 55 years – since the days of Harold Wilson – that a government has been defeated in three by-elections on the same day.
The prime minister has acknowledged that holding the seats, including Boris Johnson’s former constituency, will be a “tough battle” and Tory allies have insisted the contest the party is focused on is the general election next year.
Many Conservative MPs blame the hangover effect of Boris Johnson’s behaviour for likely losses.
For Labour, winning the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat vacated by Mr Johnson and the Selby and Ainsty constituency formerly held by his ally Nigel Adams would be a major boost for Sir Keir Starmer.
The Liberal Democrats are eyeing victory in Somerton and Frome in Somerset, where David Warburton quit after admitting cocaine use amid allegations of sexual harassment.
What polling experts are looking for
Elections expert Martin Baxter told The Independent by-elections were “not great” indicators of how parties will do in general elections.
But Mr Baxter, chief executive of polling council member Electoral Calculus, said three losses for the Tories would be “not good” for the party. “If the Conservatives lose all three very heavily, then that will be a very bad sign for them,” Mr Baxter said.
He said: “Whatever happens, by-elections are not a great guide of what is to come. You get a flavour of what people are thinking but history is littered with results which differ from general elections before and after them.
“Essentially, the thing to look for is whether the swings in each of the seats are bigger or smaller than the swings seen in the polls nationally.”
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 23:03
Counting in Uxbridge
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:42
The key contenders
In Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Labour’s Danny Beales hopes to defeat the Tory Steve Tuckwell, although rows over the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s decision to extend the low-emission zone for drivers may cost Labour votes.
In Selby and Ainsty, North Yorkshire, 25-year-old Keir Mather will become the new baby of the House if he wins for Labour, with Tory Claire Holmes trying to retain the seat for her party.
Somerton and Frome has Sarah Dyke hoping to win for the Liberal Democrats, while Faye Purbrick wants to ensure it stays Conservative.
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:37
Counting in Selby
Counting of votes is under way in Selby, North Yorkshire.
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:34
Losses would give Sunak dilemma
Losing any constituency – or all three – would increase Tory pressure on Rishi Sunak.
While Mr Johnson held his seat with a majority of only 7,210 as he led the party to a national landslide in 2019, the Tories had a cushion of around 20,000 votes in the other two constituencies.
The Prime Minister could attempt to reset his administration with a Cabinet reshuffle in the wake of the contests. Defence secretary Ben Wallace has already signalled he will quit the government so there is a vacancy to be filled, although No 10 has publicly insisted there are no plans for a shake-up.
Mr Sunak would need to decide whether the benefits of freshening up his team at this stage would be outweighed by the risk of it being perceived as a panicked response to an electoral setback.
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:31
Lib Dems hope for ‘watershed’ win in safe Tory seat
The Liberal Democrats said a win in Somerton and Frome would be a “watershed moment” for the party.
Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokeswoman Christine Jardine noted that Somerton and Frome should be a safe Conservative seat.
“If we succeed in overturning the huge 19,000 majority in Somerton and Frome, in what should be a safe Conservative seat, it would mark a watershed moment for the Liberal Democrats,” she added.
Ms Jardine said: “I am so proud of the campaigns the Liberal Democrats have run and the candidates who have stood proudly for our vision of a fair deal for the British people.”
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:26
Labour says by-elections ‘inevitable challenges’
Labour struck a cautiously optimistic tone, saying “we don’t know if we’ve made it over the line”, writes Archie Mitchell in Uxbridge.
With the Labour Party hoping to overturn a mammoth Conservative majority in Selby and Ainsty, and to snatch Boris Johnson’s old Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, it urged caution ahead of the votes being counted.
A spokesman said it will be “some time” before results filter through, and stressed the contests were “always going to be a challenge”.
“None of these seats have ever had a Labour MP before, so they were always going to be a challenge. We didn’t even win Uxbridge in 1997 and to win Selby & Ainsty would require us to overturn the biggest majority in our history,” the spokesman said.
But the spokesman stressed it was “clear Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership of a changed Labour Party” had been a vote-winner – with many voting Labour for the first time.
“It’s time to turn the page on 13 years of Tory chaos and economic mismanagement and elect a mission-driven Labour government focused on the people’s priorities,” they said.
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:22
Tories blame ‘circumstances’
The Tories were quick out of the gates with an exercise in expectation-management, writes Archie Mitchell at the count in Uxbridge.
The Conservatives said it was “always going to be a very challenging set of by-elections”, with the party facing a trio of losses.
A Tory spokesman blamed “the circumstances” surrounding the contests, with the cost of living crisis raging and Labour soaring ahead in the polls.
And the spokesman said governing parties rarely win by-elections, stressing that the results would not determine the Conservatives’ performance at a general election.
The spokesman said: “Across all of these campaigns we have heard zero enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party and their lack of answers.
“We now need to redouble our efforts earning back the trust of voters by delivering on our plan to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats.”
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:19
Tories braced for ‘disastrous’ by-election defeats
The Conservatives are braced for a hat-trick of by-election losses that would make Rishi Sunak the first prime minister since Harold Wilson to suffer three defeats in a single day, writes Kate Devlin:
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 22:08
All the candidates
The candidates standing in the Somerton and Frome by-election are:
Lorna Corke (Christian Peoples Alliance); Martin Dimery (Green); Sarah Dyke (Liberal Democrat); Bruce Evans (Reform UK); Neil Guild (Labour); Rosie Mitchell (Independent); Faye Purbrick (Conservative); Peter Richardson (UK Independence Party).
The candidates in Selby and Ainsty are:
Andrew Philip Gray (Independent); Claire Holmes (Conservative); Dave Kent (Reform UK); Keir Mather (Labour); Nick Palmer (Independent); Guy Phoenix (Heritage Party); Sir Archibald Stanton (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party); Matt Walker (Liberal Democrat); Arnold Francis Ignatius Warneken (The Green Party); John William Waterston (Social Democratic Party); Luke John Wellock (Climate Party); and Tyler Callum Wilson-Kerr (Independent).
In Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the candidates are:
Blaise Baquiche (Liberal Democrat); Danny Beales (Labour); Cameron Bell (Independent), Count Binface (Count Binface Party), Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers Corbyn (Let London Live), Laurence Fox (Reclaim Party), Sarah Green (Green Party), Richard Hewison (Rejoin EU), Rebecca Jane (Ukip), Enomfon Ntefon (Christian People’s Alliance), Leo Phaure (Independent), 77 Joseph (Independent), Kingsley Hamilton (Independent), Ed Gemmell (Climate Party), Steve Gardner (Social Democratic Party); Steve Tuckwell (Conservative); .
Jane Dalton20 July 2023 21:40