Labour is now the party of Middle England, Keir Starmer claims
Labour is now the party of Middle England, Keir Starmer claims as he accuses Conservatives of failing businesses and raiding Britons’ pockets with tax rises
- Starmer believes Labour will hold consistent poll lead over Tories within a year
- He said his shadow cabinet reshuffle has got his ‘strongest team on the pitch’
- Tories won with a reduced majority in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election
Sir Keir Starmer has claimed Labour is the party of Middle England and believes he has the charisma to secure a consistent poll lead over the Conservatives within the next 12 months.
The Labour leader accused Boris Johnson’s government of failing businesses and hiking the cost of living as he said his latest cabinet reshuffle got his ‘strongest team on the pitch’ ahead of a potential general election.
Speaking in an interview with The Times, Starmer said: ‘I think that the contrast between ourselves and the government will become starker.
‘We’ve made significant progress in the polls. I think the green shoots – or red shoots – are there.’
Asked if he thought Labour was the party of Middle England, he replied: ‘Yes, yes, absolutely, yes it is, and it must be… Have we got to focus on winning votes in the Red Wall? Yes, but we’ve also got to focus on winning votes in the Blue Wall, win votes in Scotland and across the whole United Kingdom.’
Sir Keir Starmer (pictured today) has claimed Labour is the party of Middle England and believes he has the charisma to secure a consistent poll lead over the Conservatives
Starmer promoted a number of prominent centrist figures in his surprise reshuffle on Monday, demoting his key allies in the shake-up.
His wide-ranging reshuffle saw a return to the frontbench for Yvette Cooper who replaced Nick Thomas-Symonds as shadow home secretary.
He also also handed big promotions to two of Labour’s rising stars, Bridget Phillipson and Wes Streeting, who are taking on the roles of shadow education secretary and shadow health secretary.
Jonathan Ashworth, who has had the health brief through the pandemic, has been moved to shadow work and pensions secretary.
Ms Nandy was replaced as shadow foreign secretary by David Lammy. She was moved to face off against Michael Gove as shadow secretary for levelling up and communities.
But the reshuffle blindsided deputy leader Angela Rayner who fears the rift with can be healed, allies said.
But Starmer has now insisted the pair are still friends and there is no issue between them.
After the moves, the Labour leader wrote a letter to his new shadow cabinet, saying it will operate very differently from now on.
Despite his claims of a Labour surge, the party suffered another loss on Friday in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election, although the Tories had a reduced majority.
The Conservatives’ majority in the safe seat was slashed from almost 19,000 to less than 4,500.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner delivers a speech on rebuilding trust in public life – hammering the Tories – just as her boss began sacking Corbynistas
Oliver Dowden, the Tory chairman, insisted it was a ‘good result for a governing party mid-term’ as he slapped down Labour claims that its improved second placed finish showed it is on course to win power in 2024.
Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves said the 10.3 per cent swing to Labour was ‘fantastic’ and ‘if replicated at a general election Labour would be within reach of forming a majority government’.
But Mr Dowden said: ‘This idea that Labour have made some surge ahead is really for the birds.’
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.
Tory candidate Louie French took the seat with 11,189 votes, ahead of his Labour rival on 6,711, a majority of 4,478.
The Tories’ share of the vote at just over 51 per cent was down 13 per cent on the 2019 general election result.
Turnout in the contest was just 34 per cent, down from the almost 70 per cent who voted in 2019.
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.
The Conservatives will face a second by-election later this month in North Shropshire following the resignation of Owen Paterson.
Boris Johnson and the Tories were given a bloody nose in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election as their majority was slashed from 19,000 to less than 4,500. Conservative candidate Louie French is pictured celebrating the victory
The result is likely to raise further questions over Mr Johnson’s leadership after weeks of turmoil
Mr Dowden told Sky News this morning that he was ‘really not terribly worried about Labour’ after the Tory majority was slashed in the constituency.
He said: ‘This is a good result for a governing party mid-term. As you well know, governing parties shouldn’t expect to do well mid-term.
‘We actually secured over 50 per cent of the vote in Bexley. I pay tribute to our excellent candidate and the campaign team there that secured that result.
‘This idea that Labour have made some surge ahead is really for the birds. They’ve actually got about the same vote share as they secured under Jeremy Corbyn in 2017. Keir Starmer couldn’t even be bothered to turn up to the by-election, so I am really not terribly worried about Labour.’
Asked if he believed allegations of sleaze may have affected the Tories’ performance, Mr Dowden said: ‘Of course people have concerns mid-term with any government’s performance. And, of course, people have been concerned about what’s happened over the past couple of months.
‘I actually think it’s tribute, contrary to a lot of expectations, to the campaign that has been fought by Louie French, by the excellent team down there, that we secured 50 per cent of the vote.
‘Now, what I take from that is that the Government has to focus and get on with delivery.’
Ms Reeves, who helped run the Labour campaign in the by-election, tweeted: ‘A fantastic 10.3 per cent swing to Labour in the Conservative heartland of Old Bexley and Sidcup.
‘If replicated at a general election Labour would be within reach of forming a majority government.’
The shadow minister told the BBC that Labour was ‘pleased’ with the ‘remarkable’ result.
‘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.
The candidates in the by-election are pictured in the early hours of this morning as they waited for the result to be announced
Votes were counted through the evening in the constituency after polls closed at 10pm last night
Votes were counted at Crook Log Leisure Centre in Bexleyheath in the early hours of today
‘There’s been a 10 per cent swing over to Labour this evening. 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 after it was announced, 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 per cent of the vote in a parliamentary by-election is almost unheard of, and with a majority of over 20 per cent.
‘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 victory speech, Mr French said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Labour claimed its improved second place position showed Sir Keir Starmer has the party on a path back to power
Officials at the vote count for the Old Bexley and Sidcup seat last night
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 by-election was called following the death of Mr Brokenshire, 53, who died from lung cancer in October.
He represented Old Bexley and Sidcup from 2010, having been initially elected as the MP for Hornchurch in 2005.
The constituency has been held by the Conservatives since its inception in 1983, and also in its various guises since the 1950s.
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