Labour hit the panic button on ULEZ today after Sadiq Khan’s hated plan saved Rishi Sunak from the historic shame of a triple by-election defeat.
Frontbenchers warned Keir Starmer will need to look again at the plans to expand the driver charging zone after failing to take Uxbridge & South Ruislip.
The London Mayor was branded the ‘loser of the night’ after the Tories unexpectedly clung on to Boris Johnson’s old seat by 500 votes.
However, the wider picture for Mr Sunak was grim – with the alarming sight of Labour comfortably overturning a massive majority to gain the former stronghold of Selby & Ainsty.
The Conservatives were also trounced by the Liberal Democrats in Somerton & Frome as their 19,000-vote margin from the last general election crumbled.
Amid mounting signs of a Lib-Lab electoral pact to boost their chances in target seats, Ed Davey’s party lost its deposit in Selby while Sir Keir’s suffered the same fate in Somerton.
The Tories’ new Uxbridge MP Steve Tuckwell admitted his victory was down to the unpopularity of ULEZ. Labour frontbenchers said the party must now ‘reflect’ on the policy.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said ‘there is no getting away from’ the fact that ULEZ was ‘the major issue’. She warned people ‘can’t afford’ the levy amid the cost of living crisis – but blamed the government for failing to fund a scrappage scheme.
‘The Uxbridge result shows that when you don’t listen to the voters, you don’t win elections,’ she said.
Pollsters suggested the outcome has implications for swing seats near London such as Harlow and Thurrock.
There is speculation that Mr Sunak could carry out a reshuffle soon to try and move on from the body blows – although No10 has signalled it will not be today.
After being declared the by-election winner after a recount of votes, Mr Tuckwell said: ‘This message from Uxbridge and South Ruislip residents is clear; Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election and we know it was his damaging and costly ULEZ policy that lost them this election.’
The Tory victory in Uxbridge means Mr Sunak escapes becoming the first PM for 55 years – since Labour’s Harold Wilson in 1968 – to lose three seats at by-elections on the same day.
But the bad results in Somerton and Selby will rattle Tory MPs already worried about their chances of keeping Labour out of power at the general election, which is expected next year.
A Labour source pointed to Selby and Ainsty being a ‘true blue’ Tory seat near to Mr Sunak’s own constituency.
The victory was the largest Conservative majority overturned by Labour at a by-election since 1945, after the Tories won the seat with a 20,000-vote majority at the 2019 general election.
The previous record was set at the Mid Staffordshire by-election in March 1990, when Labour overturned a Tory majority of 14,654.
The source said Labour’s win showed ‘colossal progress’ and was a ‘real disaster’ for the Tories.
They claimed a similar swing to Labour across constituencies at the general election would give them more House of Commons seats than they won under Tony Blair in 1997.
Sir Keir said: ‘This is an historic result that shows that people are looking at Labour and seeing a changed party that is focused entirely on the priorities of working people with an ambitious, practical plan to deliver.