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Tory candidate Helen Harrison had a night to forget
By Chris Mason
Political editor, BBC News, in Wellingborough

So, another two whopping by-election victories for Labour.

What is most striking about the results in Wellingborough and Kingwood is that they feel almost unsurprising, despite the scale of Labour’s wins.

Why? Because it extends the trend of Labour marching forward and Conservative gloom.

The results underline the current likelihood, if the mood of the electorate does not shift, of Labour winning the general election.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is going out of his way to avoid even the merest whiff of complacency.

Despite the massive swings to Labour, he told BBC Breakfast his party were merely “credible contenders” at the general election.

The added political spice that garnishes the Tory gloom today is the performances of Reform UK.

I’m typing this in a café in Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, where this morning Reform candidate and deputy leader Ben Habib has been on a victory lap.

Mr Habib finished third behind the Labour and the Conservative candidates, but it represents a victory in Reform’s battle for influence, as they inflicted two very painful statistical wounds on Rishi Sunak’s party.

Reform candidate Ben Habib can’t hide his delight

Reform got a 13% share of the vote at this by-election, in line with some national opinion polls that some thought might be flattering the party.

And in Kingswood, near Bristol, they got a share of the vote greater than the gap between the victorious Labour candidate and the Tory runner-up.

That is a double dose of the heebie-jeebies delivered in one day to nervous Tories.

Perhaps little wonder that my phone pinged first thing with a text from one of those of Conservatives convinced of the party’s imminent doom unless something radical changes, perhaps getting rid of Rishi Sunak.

“The reality is Labour are currently storming to a huge victory and we have an insurgent party on the right polling above 10%. Cue Nigel Farage’s intervention two months out from a general election and we’re facing an extinction level event. It’s a slow motion car crash.”

But as things stand I don’t detect a mass, wider outbreak of insurrection. At least not yet.

Labour’s Gen Kitchen celebrates her victory with supporters

One senior figure, loyal to the prime minister, pointed to the remarks of Jacob Rees Mogg, a cabinet minister under Liz Truss, who said Mr Sunak’s “leadership is solid and has support and by elections don’t change that.”

Let’s see.

Instead, I detected a near resigned rationality to the near inevitability of these results from Tory insiders. A heavy-hearted but practical conclusion based on the fact that by-elections are expensive if you properly go for it – around £100,000 a piece.

In seats where it is close to impossible to shift the public mood it makes sense not to waste time and money.

And so the Conservatives didn’t. Their campaigning footprint was minimal in Northamptonshire, if a little larger in Kingswood.

One Tory backbencher, whose private reflections I sought on the results, replied with the crying laughter emoji, followed by “I’m an optimist.”

The best the Conservatives hope for is that by the autumn the economy is looking up, and inflation and interest rates are coming down.

By elections, particularly those mid term, can often be mood makers or even weather changers when it comes to the political climate.

But these two, as close as they are to the general election and as in line with existing and increasingly established trends as they are, feel like they reinforce a collection of sentiments already there.

Make no mistake though: they are extraordinary results for Labour, a party crushed just five years ago, who now look as close to government as they have been in nearly a decade and a half.

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