Boris Johnson was given a by-election bloody nose this morning as the Tory majority in the safe seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup was slashed from 19,000 to less than 4,500.
The vote – which was called following the death of former cabinet minister James Brokenshire in October – took place amid a whirlwind of sleaze allegations against the government.
OLD BEXLEY & SIDCUP BY-ELECTION RESULT
Conservative 11,189 (51.48%)
Labour 6,711 (30.88%)
Reform 1,432 (6.59%)
Green 830 (3.82%)
Liberal Democrat 647 (2.98%)
English Democrat 271 (1.25%); UKIP 184 (0.85%); Rejoin EU 151 (0.69%); Heritage 116 (0.53%); Christian 108 (0.50%); Monster Raving 94 (0.43%)
TOTAL: 21,787 TURNOUT: 33.6%
CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY: 4,478
Tory candidate Louie French took the seat with 11,189 ahead of his Labour rival on 6,711, a majority of 4,478. The Tories’ share was down 13% on the 2019 result and it represented a 10% swing to Labour.
Mr French praised Mr Brokenshire’s record in his acceptance speech, and said it had been ‘a tough contest, which has been fought with dignity and respect’.
Mr French contested the seat alongside ten other candidates including Daniel Francis for Labour, Simone Reynolds for the Lib Dems, Jonathan Rooks for the Greens, and Richard Tice for the Reform Party, who came third with 1,432 votes.
Mr Tice, who is also the Reform Party leader, later tweeted: ‘Huge thanks to voters in Old Bexley & Sidcup. A massive result for @reformparty-uk, coming 3rd with almost as many votes as the Lib Dems & Greens combined. Now only 5 parties to choose from in British politics and Reform UK is the only one on the upward march.’
The result is likely to raise further questions over Mr Johnson’s leadership after weeks of turmoil and growing backbench anger at his handling of sleaze claims and the Covid crisis.
Ellie Reeves, Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, said the party was ‘pleased’ with the result.
‘We’re pleased with the result tonight. This is a Conservative stronghold, somewhere that had a 19,000 majority at the last general election and what we’ve seen tonight is that majority being slashed,’ she said. ‘There’s been a 10% swing over to Labour this evening.
Boris Johnson, seen getting his Covid booster jab yesterday, will face new questions about his leadership in the wake of the result
The by-election was contested by Louie French for the Tories (pictured at the results today) and Daniel Francis for Labour, as well as Simone Reynolds for the Lib Dems, Jonathan Rooks for the Greens, and Richard Tice for the Reform Party.
‘We’ve been knocking on doors for weeks here and finding many, many Conservative voters that have said actually I’m not going to vote for them this time, I’m going to vote for Labour.
‘I think it’s clear that we’re winning back the trust of people and it’s a remarkable result for us in a Tory stronghold.’
The Tories put a brave face on the result, pointing out Mr French secured more than half the votes cast.
Conservative deputy chairman Justin Tomlinson said: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled. For a Government to get over 50% of the vote in a parliamentary by-election is almost unheard of, and with a majority of over 20%.
‘A fantastic local candidate, positive campaign, focused on the tangible difference we’re making to people’s lives, having navigated the unprecedented challenges of Covid.’
He added that the result was an ‘absolute disaster’ for the Labour Party, saying: ‘They do not look like a Government in waiting.’
In his speech, Mr French added: ‘I’m incredibly proud of the campaign my team and I have run based on local issues that matter to the people who live here.
The candidates line up ahead of the result in Bexleyheath early this morning
Votes were counted through the evening after polls closed at 10pm last night
‘And tonight, those people send a clear message: they want an MP who will work with the Government to deliver on their priorities.
‘My focus will now be delivering on those promises that I made during the campaign – get our fair share of London’s police officers, securing more investment for local schools and hospitals, protecting our precious green spaces.’
He promised voters he would ‘work tirelessly to repay the trust that you’ve placed in me and I will not let you down’.
‘This is the greatest honour of my life. And I hope it inspires people to achieve their own dreams.’
The win came after Tory Chief Whip Mark Spencer told Tory MPs on Tuesday night to take part in a ‘dawn raid’ on the constituency to boost support and get out the vote.
Tory sources feared voter apathy would see the party’s majority shrink, with one telling The Telegraph: ‘There is no love for Labour… we have seen no switchers to Labour at all.’
Labour candidate Mr Francis told the newspaper that he believed the shadow cabinet reshuffle had provided a boost.
He suggested Yvette Cooper’s return to the Labour frontbench as shadow home secretary had cut through with voters.
He said: ‘There are people citing that and talking about the reshuffle, and certainly in the case of the shadow home secretary, that’s an example of somebody who is back in a high profile post.’
Conservative MP Mr Brokenshire, 53, died from lung cancer in October, with tributes paid from across the political spectrum.
Votes were counted at Crook Log Leisure Centre in Bexleyheath in the early hours of today
He represented Old Bexley and Sidcup from 2010, having been initially elected as the MP for Hornchurch in 2005. Mr French, a Tory councillor of eight years, served as deputy leader of Bexley council from 2018 to 2021 and following his selection, he said: ‘James Brokenshire was a friend and mentor to me and it’s an honour to have been selected as the Conservative candidate for Old Bexley and Sidcup, where I hope to carry on his excellent work.
‘I will campaign to ensure that outer London areas like Old Bexley and Sidcup are not forgotten or left behind by the mayor of London and City Hall.
‘And I will work to improve access to GPs and healthcare services, building directly on James’ work with Queen Mary’s Hospital, so residents can get a face-to-face GP appointment at a time that suits them.’
Mr Francis is also a councillor and formerly led the Labour group on Bexley council.
In a message on Twitter, he said he had lived in the area for 20 years and vowed to work ‘tirelessly’ for the community if elected.
On the Labour Party website, he wrote: ‘I will make sure our communities are safer by reducing speeding on our main roads, tackling anti-social behaviour and putting more police on our streets.
Officials at the vote count for the Old Bexley and Sidcup seat last night
Labour had hoped Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet reshuffle earlier this week could boost the party’s chances of an unlikely victory
‘I will revitalise our high streets by standing up to Conservatives cuts and supporting Labour’s call to scrap business rates.
‘And I will push for the increase in investment our area needs, at every level of government.
‘So on December 2, let’s use this one-off opportunity to send the Conservatives a message. Let’s tell them we’ll no longer be taken for granted.’
Mr Tice, who is former chairman of the Brexit Party, announced his candidacy in a bid to send Mr Johnson a ‘powerful message’ about the impact of his Government’s policies after the Conservative administration raised the tax burden to the highest level since the 1950s.
The leader of the Reform Party – formerly known as the Brexit Party – said he would be standing on a ticket of low taxes and pledged to campaign for a referendum on the target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Other candidates competing for the seat included Elaine Cheeseman for the English Democrats, Richard Hewison for Rejoin EU, David Kurten for the Heritage Party, John Poynton for Ukip, Carol Valinejad for the Christian Peoples Alliance, and Mad Mike Young for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
The Conservatives will face a second by-election later this month in North Shropshire following the resignation of Owen Paterson.