Humiliated Tory candidates fled the scene last night after Labour seized true-blue Tamworth and Mid Beds in by-elections.
Extraordinary footage showed Mid Beds hopeful Festus Akinbusoye bolting from the count as soon as his loss was formally announced – without the normal courtesy of listening to his rival’s victory speech.
Tamworth candidate Andrew Cooper also shook hands but scurried off stage as his Labour opponent began to speak, having seemingly been given a signal to leave by an aide.
Rishi Sunak has been warned he is ‘looking general election defeat in the face’ after the bloodbath.
Sir Keir rushed to Mid Beds to take the glory this morning, gloating about ‘making history’ and Labour ‘redrawing the political map’.
Polling experts said the figures points to a landslide on the scale of Tony Blair‘s 1997 wipeout.
Although by-elections are not directly reflected at general elections, a swing of the scale seen overnight could theoretically reduce the Tories to just 20 seats.
Labour gained Mid Beds, which was vacated this summer by Tory ex-Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, for the first time in the constituency’s century-long history.
Sir Keir’s party celebrated an historic victory after a 20.5 percentage point swing towards them since the 2019 general election.
It was the largest majority in terms of votes overturned by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
Extraordinary footage showed Mid Beds candidate Festus Akinbusoye (left) leaving the count without listening to his rival’s victory speech. Tamworth hopeful Andrew Cooper (right) was also seemingly given the nod by aides that he should make a hasty exit after shaking hands
Labour’s Alistair Strathern delivers a victory speech after his win in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election
Labour supporters embrace each other as they celebrate their party’s stunning success in Mid Bedfordshire
Sarah Edwards, the victorious Labour candidate in Tamworth, said local voters had chosen a ‘fresh start’
Ms Edwards, who secured a last-minute endorsement from TV’s Ross Kemp on polling day, will replace Chris Pincher as the local MP
In its 105 years of existence, Labour had never won Mid Beds and were 24,664 votes behind the Tories at the 2019 general election.
Labour shadow cabinet minister Peter Kyle, who masterminded his party’s victory in Mid Bedfordshire, hailed a ‘political earthquake‘.
‘This is the biggest by-election shock in history, it is a political earthquake and it is one that is sending an unignorable message to Westminster and to Rishi Sunak that this country deserves better,’ he said.
Alistair Strathern took the constituency with a majority of 1,192 votes over his Tory rival Mr Akinbusoye – the local police and crime commissioner, who had been widely regarded as performing well in the campaign.
Victory for Labour in Brexit-backing Tamworth saw the party overturn the Tories‘ 19,600-vote majority from the 2019 general election.
The swing from the Tories to Labour in the Staffordshire constituency was 23.9 percentage points, which is the second-largest managed by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
It was even bigger than the 23.7 percentage points that Labour achieved when winning the Selby and Ainsty by-election in July.
Polling guru Sir John Curtice pointed out that the change was in line with Labour’s 1996 by-election victory in the forerunner seat.
The Tamworth contest was triggered by the resignation of former Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher after he was found to have drunkenly groped two men in a posh London club.
Labour candidate Sarah Edwards defeated Tory rival Mr Cooper by a majority of 1,316 votes. He also made a swift exit from the count without listening to her speech.
Mr Sunak this week declined to condemn an apparent suggestion by Mr Cooper that out-of-work parents who cannot afford to feed their children should ‘f*** off’.
The Tory leader was asked during Prime Minister’s Questions about a photo of a flowchart shared by Mr Cooper on Facebook.
The diagram suggested that those who are out of work, pay for ‘TV Sky/BT/etc’, or ‘have a phone contract + £30’ should ‘f*** off’ rather than seek help.
In reply to the question, the PM said only that he was ‘proud of our record supporting people with the cost of living’, before outlining Government policies aimed at supporting people through the crisis.
Mr Cooper told Channel 5 News he was ‘sorry if I’ve offended somebody’ after the post was publicised.
Asked if regretted sharing the image, he said: ‘Obviously it is not something I would share now in today’s world.
‘We obviously mature and have different opinions than we do three years ago.’
He added: ‘Of course I’m sorry if I’ve offended somebody. But it is very hard in today’s world to have an opinion and not to offend somebody.’
Following the double by-election victory, Sir Keir said: ‘These are phenomenal results that show Labour is back in the service of working people and redrawing the political map.
‘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.’
Party chair Greg Hands said he was ‘disappointed’ but blamed ‘specific circumstances’ in the constituencies and said their voters had simply stayed at home.
‘We need to think particularly about the fact that Conservative voters are not coming out to vote,’ he told Sky News.
One veteran Tory told MailOnline: ‘Normally by elections are protest votes, this appears to be protest non votes.’
Mr Sunak will be left reeling after he attempted to revive Tory fortunes with a recent policy blitz.
The PM has made announcements on Net Zero, the HS2 rail line, an A-levels shake-up, and a New Zealand-style smoking ban.
He has also overhauled his Downing Street team, but has yet to see much improvement in the Conservatives’ opinion polling.
Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns wrote on social media: ‘Voter apathy is evident yet again in both the #ByElections, low turnout -20k failed to turnout in Tamworth, 24k failed to turnout in Mid Beds since the last election.
‘We need to make far reaching major changes now to instil confidence in the Conservative voters.’
Although by-elections are not directly reflected at general elections, a swing of the scale seen overnight could theoretically reduce the Tories to a rump of seats
Labour sources stressed Tamworth is not even among the party’s target seats for the general election and is the 57th safest Tory constituency in the country.
Tory minister Andrew Bowie admitted the Conservatives had suffered a ‘disappointing’ night, but told Sky News: ‘It’s very unusual for governments to win by-elections.
‘What’s quite clear and what’s been demonstrated is that while people support the priorities of the Government… people are reserving judgment about who they’re going to vote for in the general election.’
He pointed to how Labour had won less votes at the Mid Bedfordshire by-election than they did at the 2019 general election, while they only added around 800 votes to their tally from the last general election in the Tamworth contest.
Mr Bowie claimed the by-election results did not show a ‘groundswell’ of support for Labour, adding: ‘There’s no enthusiasm behind the Keir Starmer project.
‘I would be very surprised if these results were to be repeated in a general election.’
A Conservative spokesman acknowledged a ‘difficult result’ in Tamworth but pointed to a ‘much-reduced turnout’ in the by-election of 35.9 per cent, compared to the larger number of voters at the last general election.
The spokesman added: ‘It’s important to see it in context. The government of the day rarely wins by-elections and there were specific reasons around the nature of the departure of the previous MP.’
Professor Sir John Curtice said the two by-election results were ‘extremely bad news’ for the Conservatives and suggested Mr Sunak was on course for general election defeat.
‘This isn’t destiny, but it is a pointer and it is a pointer that, unless the Conservatives can fairly dramatically and fairly radically turn things around, then they are in truth staring defeat in the face in 12 months’ time,’ he said.
He warned the Tories ‘may get caught in a pincer movement between some of their former Leave voters wandering off to Labour but others going off to Reform UK’.
Reform secured 1,487 votes in Mid Bedfordshire and 1,373 in Tamworth, in both instances more than Labour’s majority over the Conservatives.
Mr Sunak was set to be told the by-election results while continuing a Middle East trip, during which he has held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman