Keir Starmer hails Wakefield by-election as ‘birthplace’ of next Labour government as relieved leader tries to move on from rail strikes infighting
Keir Starmer hailed Wakefield as the ‘birthplace’ of the next Labour government as he seized on the by-election win to stabilise his leadership.
Sir Keir was in the Yorkshire constituency just a few hours after the dramatic result was announced, posing with his new MP Simon Lightwood.
The result will come as a huge relief to Sir Keir, who has been facing a mounting revolt over his fence-sitting on rail strikes.
A slew of frontbenchers and MPs have been pictured on picket lines as the action brought the country to a standstill this week, despite the leader’s pleas to be more low-key.
Surrounded by Labour campaigners at Ossett Market this morning, Sir Keir said: ‘What a judgment this is on the Tories and Boris Johnson – out of touch, out of ideas, and if they had any decency they would get out the way for the sake of the country.
Sir Keir was in the Yorkshire constituency just a few hours after the dramatic result was announced, posing with his new MP Simon Lightwood
Surrounded by Labour campaigners at Ossett Market this morning, Sir Keir said: ‘What a judgment this is on the Tories and Boris Johnson.’
‘When we do form that next Labour government, and we’re going to do it, Wakefield will go down as the birthplace of that.’
Mr Lightwood overturned a majority of just under 3,500 to retake Wakefield, a seat that was solidly Labour between the 1930s and 2019.
It voted Leave and turned blue as part of Mr Johnson’s massive majority at the 2019 general election, when he vowed to ‘Get Brexit Done’.
But Mr Lightwood took 13,166 votes to Tory Nadeem Ahmed’s 8,241 on a 52 per cent turnout. It gave him a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7 percentage points from the Tories to Labour.
Mr Johnson vowed to ‘keep going’ today despite Tory chair Oliver Dowden dramatically quitting after the party suffered a double by-election pummelling.
The PM said he would ‘listen’ after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, but tried to play down the huge blows as a difficult ‘patch’ for the government.
However, Mr Johnson – who is more than 4,000 miles away on a visit to Rwanda – is facing a fresh threat to his position after Mr Dowden walked out saying he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results.
The outgoing minister delivered what appeared to be a coded attack on the PM, saying the party cannot continue with ‘business as usual’.
Rather than stating his continuing loyalty to the premier in his resignation letter, Mr Dowden said he ‘remains loyal to the Conservative Party‘. Aides did not respond to questions about whether he still supports Mr Johnson as leader.
Allies of the PM mobilised to shore him up, with his deputy Dominic Raab insisting the party must ‘relentlessly focus’ on policy and Priti Patel saying the government is ‘cracking on with the task’.
But the move – which came minutes before Mr Dowden was due to start broadcast interviews and at the least paves the way for a reshuffle – followed the bombshell results in West Yorkshire and Devon. The contests were lost by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership.
The Conservatives gave up the previously ultra-safe, Brexit-backing seat of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats, with Richard Foord winning by more than 6,000 votes in a seat where the party came third in 2019. It is believed to be the largest majority ever overturned in a by-election.
Some 270 miles to the north east, Mr Johnson’s party had moments earlier ceded Wakefield to Labour after holding the Red Wall seat for just three years, with Simon Lightwood winning a near-5,000 majority in a vote called after the previous Tory MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was jailed for child sex offences.
A Tory MP close to Mr Dowden told MailOnline that he had ‘done the right thing for the party’. ‘Somebody needed to leave the Cabinet,’ they said. The senior MP said the outgoing minister had recognised he could not ‘polish a t***’, adding: ‘I’m afraid we have got a turd of a government.’
Veteran MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is on the executive of the powerful 1922 Committee, said his colleagues would wait to see if there was a ‘satisfactory’ response from Mr Johnson, or whether they needed to take ‘steps’ to replace him.
Another Conservative, Roger Gale – a serial critic of the PM – said Mr Dowden ‘can no longer defend the indefensible’.
In worrying signs for the Tories, the electoral blows were facilitated by an effective electoral pact between the opposition parties. Labour barely campaigned in Tiverton and gained so few votes it lost its deposit, and the same was true for the Lib Dems in Wakefield.
Speaking to broadcasters in Kigali, Mr Johnson thanked Mr Dowden for his work and said: ‘It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough by-election results, they’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise voters are going through a tough time at the moment.
‘I think, as a Government, I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which, I think, for most people is the number one issue.
‘We’re now facing pressures on the cost of living, we’re seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs – that’s hitting people.
‘We’ve got to recognise there is more we’ve got to do and we certainly will, we will keep going, addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.’