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Sir Keir Starmer’s strategy ‘in tatters’ after Labour’s worst ever by-election defeat

·2-min read
 Keir Starmer - Steve Parsons/Getty Images Europe
Keir Starmer - Steve Parsons/Getty Images Europe

Sir Keir Starmer’s election strategy is “in tatters” after Labour’s worst ever by-election defeat saw it take just 1.6 per cent of the vote, MPs have said.

Labour’s candidate, Natasa Pantelic, secured just 622 votes in Chesham and Amersham’s by-election on Thursday, losing her deposit and falling more than 6,500 votes short of the party’s 2019 performance.

Party insiders tried to insulate their leader from the loss, stressing that the campaign was fought on local issues like planning and HS2, rather than national politics.

Sarah Green, the Liberal Democrat candidate, campaigned against HS2 in the seat despite the national party supporting it.

Sir Ed Davey, her party leader, said her campaign had punched a hole in the “Blue Wall” of Tory strongholds in Buckinghamshire and the wider South of England.

Labour sources believe a protest vote directed at the Conservatives coalesced around the Liberal Democrats because they came second in the 2019 election, pulling voters away from Ms Pantelic.

Supporters of the Labour leader say the party inevitably suffered from an “anti-Tory tactical squeeze” because the Liberal Democrats appeared the more viable party of opposition in the seat.

But other Labour MPs privately warned Sir Keir’s election strategy was “in tatters” and called for a major shift in focus.

One MP on the Left of the party hit back at the suggestion that the result was caused by local issues or the pandemic.

“It’s obviously not the vaccine bounce that can be attributed to Labour’s woes, because the Lib Dems obviously aren’t immune to that,” the MP told The Telegraph.

“It can’t just be put down to HS2, which some people are trying to fight a rearguard action on, which is just ridiculous.

“There is a political realignment taking place. This is a by-election and people often send messages in by-elections [...] but it shows that Labour is not in a position to form an electoral coalition like they did in 1997.

“Until the party wakes up to that, it will continue to find excuses.”

The Chesham and Amersham result comes after Labour’s disastrous result in Hartlepool, where it lost a heartland seat to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Insiders believe the next election will come sooner than the end of the current parliamentary term in 2024, and point to the local election results as evidence that Sir Keir’s strategy is not working.

Labour has launched a major policy review of its manifesto offering, named “Stronger Together”, in the hope it can bring back pre-2019 voters.

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