Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak’s by-election triple threat — results and analysis as it happened

It’s one-a-piece for the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservative Party. The Lib Dems have won in Somerton and Frome, overturning a majority of 19,000 at the last general election. The Conservatives held on in Uxbridge and Ruislip, winning narrowly with a majority of 495. They have ULEZ and Sadiq Khan to thank for that. Selby and Ainsty flipped for Labour, overturning a 20,000-plus majority. 

See how the night transpired with the results, analysis and rolling news from yesterday’s by-elections as it happened.

04.25 am — That’s all from us!

In sum, a mixed night for Rishi Sunak, after his Conservative party narrowly held Uxbridge and South Ruislip, but lost the once-safe seats of Selby and Ainsty to Keir Starmer’s Labour and Somerton and Frome to the Liberal Democrats both on 20 per cent-plus swings.

Even in these early hours, the party spin machines are working overtime — but, right now, it is those huge swings away from the Conservative Party in those onetime Conservative strongholds of Somerton and Selby which stand out for me. 

The idiosyncrasies of the Uxbridge campaign, which the Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell willingly admits was won on ULEZ, may mean any bigger-picture, national lessons there are few and far between. Although it could be argued that the Uxbridge by-election underscores an underlying fragility in Labour’s offering — considering the Conservatives entirely hijacked a campaign, which Labour sought to run and win on national issues, with local politics. 

Any more analysis will have to be left to better-rested politicos later today. 

04.20 am — Sir Keir Starmer has declared Labour’s win in Selby and Ainsty “a historic result”. The Labour leader said:

It is clear just how powerful the demand for change is. Voters put their trust in us — many for the first time. After 13 years of Tory chaos, only Labour can give the country its hope, its optimism and its future back

He added:

This is a 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.

Keir Mather will be a fantastic MP who will deliver the fresh start Selby and Ainsty deserves.

04.06 am —🚨 Labour win Selby and Ainsty 🚨

  • Labour: 16,456
  • Conservatives: 12,295

Labour candidate Keir Mather is elected as the youngest MP at 25, becoming “baby of the House”. 

03.58 am — Candidates and their election agents in Selby and Ainsty have been called over by the returning officer. They will be told the preliminary result. Won’t be long for the rest of us to wait now. 

03.45 am — Uxbridge results break down, where did it go wrong for Labour?

  • Conservative, Steve Tuckwell – 45.2 %
  • Labour, Danny Beales – 43.6%
  • Green Party, Sarah Green – 2.9%
  • The Reclaim Party, Laurence Fox – 2.3%
  • Liberal Democrat, Blaise Baquiche – 1.7 %
  • SDP, Steve Gardner – 0.8%

03.40 am — Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey says “Somerton and Frome has spoken for the rest of the country”.

This stunning victory shows the Liberal Democrats are firmly back in the West Country. Sarah Dyke will be an incredible local champion for the people of Somerset who have been neglected for far too long. She will fight for stronger local health services, better access to GPs and a fair deal for rural communities during this cost of living crisis.

He added:

The people of Somerton and Frome have spoken for the rest of the country who are fed up with Rishi Sunak’s out-of-touch Conservative government.

03.35 am — Shadow business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Johnathan Reynolds has blamed the ULEZ policy for Labour’s performance in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Reynolds told the BBC:

You’ve got a situation where things are very tough for people right now – the mortgages they’re paying, the energy bills that they have got. And of course then when they are faced with a potential additional charge, that is going to be a difficult thing.

Reynolds added that the scheme was a “specific issue to that particular part of the United Kingdom” and that, ahead of the next election, Labour would be focusing on the “national story”.

03.18 am — The result in Somerton and Frome shows that progressive parties can use tactical voting to beat Conservative candidates, the winning Lib Dem candidate has claimed.

Speaking after the declaration of the result, Sarah Dyke said:

There is no doubt that our electoral system is broken, but you have shown that the Conservatives can still be beaten under it. I will work every day to repay your faith and trust in me.

03.15 am — Veterans minister Johnny Mercer is now being grilled by the BBC on his party’s performance in Somerton and Frome.

He calls the swing to the Liberal Democrats at the next election “artificial”.

The party overturned a majority of more than 19,000 at the last general election with a 29.9 per cent to the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives.

03.01 am — So Labour has lost the by-election in Uxbridge. The victorious Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell, speaking after the results of the election were declared, said:

This message from the Uxbridge and South Ruislip residents is clear. Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election, and we know that it was his damaging and costly ULEZ policy which lost them this election.

02.51 am —🚨 Liberal Democrats win in Somerton and Frome 🚨

Liberal Democrat: 21,187
Conservatives: 10,179
The Conservatives had a majority of more than 19,000 at the last general election

02.45 am — ULEZ has saved Sunak tonight in Uxbridge, but a general election could be a different story. 

The Conservatives have held on in Uxbridge and South Ruislip — on account of the unpopular planned expansion of ULEZ to the area.

ULEZ, or Ultra Low Emission Zone, is a scheme under which the most polluting vehicles are charged a fee for driving in certain areas of London. A recent expansion of the scheme into parts of outer London has faced widespread opposition.

So if there is a story of the night right now it looks like this: the government is deeply unpopular (see Somerton and Selby), but so is ULEZ (see Uxbridge).

This matters tonight because it gives Sunak an out and could quiet the siren calls for wholesale change on policy or personnel in No 10. It will also put some pressure on Stramer. In all, it would have taken a swing of seven points from Conservatives to Labour for Sir Keir Starmer’s party to win the constituency. Given Labour needs a 12-point national swing for a parliamentary majority at a general election, losing here will be interpreted as a political setback for the party — in spite of the race’s idiosyncrasies.

But come a general election, when local factors matter less, one wonders whether ULEZ will save Sunak in Uxbridge. Certainly, it is not a national issue, and therefore the more indicative seats tonight will likely be Selby and Somerton. 

02.40 am —🚨 Conservatives win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip 🚨 

  • Conservatives – 13,965
  • Labour – 13,470

02.10 am — Sky News reporting that Labour has fallen short in Uxbridge. A source close to the result told Sky they think the Conservatives are around 400 to 500 ahead — before the recount.

02.07 am — Officials at the Selby and Ainsty by-election have announced a turnout of 44.77 per cent, with some 35,886 ballots included in the count. It compares to a turnout of 72 per cent in 2019.

02.03 am — Recount in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, what does it mean?

Firstly, it is a confirmation that things are tighter in the constituency than appears to be the case in Somerton and Frome (likely Lib Dem gain) and Selby and Ainsty (likely Labour gain). Tighter, perhaps, than Labour figures first thought. 

Why? In short, ULEZ. The contentious expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) by London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been the key issue in the campaign. Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell has been majoring on this issue on the doorstep, whereas Labour’s Danny Beales’ focus has been primarily on national developments, including and especially the conduct of Uxbridge’s former MP Boris Johnson.

Presently, both the Conservative and Labour votes are being recounted by officials in Uxbridge, on the request of the runner-up on the first count. 

01.56 am —🚨 Recount in Uxbridge and South Ruislip 🚨

Lloyd White, the returning officer in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, says: 

A recount has been asked for and granted. We’ll be recounting all the Labour and Conservative votes – and we will be looking at the other bundles to make sure there are no Labour or Conservative votes in them.

01.55 am — Might ULEZ be Labour’s undoing in Uxbridge? David Simmonds, Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, tells Sky News that the matter of ULEZ expansion has “definitely cut through” in the seat. He said:

ULEZ, which was an issue before the by-election was even called, has definitely cut through and we’re going to find out shortly how that has panned out on the doorsteps with the voters.

The air quality in this part of London is already above the quality standard that ULEZ seeks to achieve, except for the air around Heathrow Airport because the ULEZ doesn’t do anything about that

01.46 am — The returning officer’s tie is drawn tightly and the candidates are huddled. Seems preliminary results in Uxbridge and South Ruislip are being given. The candidates hear before we do, but might not be much longer for us now. 

Of course, there is a large chance this race will be tight — probably the tightest of the three. It means, upon hearing the preliminary results, a candidate might request a recount prolonging proceedings.

01.42 am — Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Dyke looking very happy at the Somerton and Frome count. Hugs and photos being taken. Lib Dems have been confident all night — they  could have just got some more official confirmation of their success. 

01.34 am — The returning officer in Uxbridge and South Ruislip has … put his tie on. The BBC reckons this is a sign the candidates are being gathered to hear the race’s preliminary result. Also lots of pointing and paper shuffling going on. Between this and Somerton and Frome, this could be an earlier finish than previously anticipated. 

01.30 am — It’s Keir Starmer’s chance to silence the doubters. This is a key moment for the Labour leader who will want to prove his party can act on its long-held double-digit lead over the Conservatives and win in historically unlikely areas.

These three by-elections, of course, come at the end of a politically difficult week for Starmer, who has been tested over his position on the two-child benefit cap. 

Keir Starmer committed on Sunday to upholding the two-child benefit cap in a move that triggered cross-factional consternation in Labour ranks. MPs and senior party figures from across the UK continue to take aim at the controversial approach. 

But two victories today, in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Selby Ainsty, with their individual challenges, would surely silence some of Sir Keir’s doubters. 

With a shadow cabinet reshuffle expected in the coming weeks, it would put the Labour leader in a strong position in and around his party.

I write more on Labour’s two-child benefit cap position and shadow cabinet reshuffle rumours here

01.15 am — BBC reporting that the Conservatives have all but conceded defeat in Somerton and Frome.

David Fothergill, the Conservative group leader on Somerset County Council, blamed a combination of national factors when speaking to the BBC, and the former MP, David Warburton, who “went rogue”. Warburton resigned after admitting taking drugs (See 12.30 am).

01.09 am — 17’s a crowd in Uxbridge. Meet the candidates vying to replace Boris Johnson:

  • Blaise Baquiche, Liberal Democrat
  • Danny eales, Labour
  • Cameron Bell, Independent
  • Count Binface, Count Binface Party
  • Piers Corbyn, Let London Live
  • Laurence Fox, Reclaim Party
  • Steve Gardner, Social Democratic Party
  • Ed Gemmell, Climate Party
  • Sarah Green, Green Party
  • Kingsley Hamilton, Independent
  • Richard Hewison, Rejoin EU
  • Howling Hope, Official Monster Raving Loony Party
  • 77 Joseph, Independent
  • Rebecca Jane, UK Independence Party
  • Enomfon Ntefon, Christian Peoples Alliance
  • Leo Phaure, Independent
  • Steve Tuckwell, Conservative Party

01.02 am — Sky News is reporting from Somerton and Frome that the result there could be declared earlier than was initially estimated.

The declaration had been expected between 3 am and 4 am.

12.55 pm — Will Uxbridge and Ruislip be tighter than expected? Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary who has been running Labour’s campaign in the constituency, has told Sky News that it’s been his view throughout “that this would be a fairly close vote”.

“I’m not going to predict which way it will fall but that’s how it’s felt to me”, he said.

Reed added:

The Conservatives have tried to fight this campaign as if it were a single issue campaign and the issue with that is that they’ve got absolutely nothing to say about the real top issue that voters are concerned about – and that is the cost of living.

12.47 am — Former Conservative cabinet minister says it is “highly likely” the Conservatives will lose all three by-elections.

Robert Buckland has told Sky News: “Being realistic and frank, if, as I expect, we don’t do well tonight we need to reflect on that. I think it’s going to be a difficult night for us.”

Asked moreover if the party was going to lose all three by-elections, Buckland said: “I think that’s highly likely.”

12.43 am — We have figures on the turnout in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. It seems much lower tan it was in 2019, as is typical with by-elections when compared to a national poll.

In Uxbridge and South Ruislip, 31,002 voters cast ballots yesterday — down from 48,187 in the 2019 general election.

12.40 am — What Lib Dem stunts await in the morning? Party leader Sir Ed Davey, whose weakness for a post-by-election photo-op is infamous, tweets ominously:

12.33 am — Labour minister Jess Phillips reacts to Liberal Democrat claims the party has won in Somerton and Frome:

12.30 am — Three by-elections in one day. How did we get here?

Uxbridge and South Ruislip was, of course, once represented by Boris Johnson, before the former PM resigned from parliament seat after he was handed a report from the privileges committee which found he had lied to MPs about “partygate”.

Nigel Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty, was a close ally of Johnson and announced he would be stepping down a day later. His move came amid controversy over Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list, on which Adams did not to his surprise appear.

In April 2022, MP for Somerton and Frome David Warbuton was suspended from the Conservative party pending an outcome of an investigation into allegations of harassment and drug use. At the start of June 2023 he announced his resignation as an MP because he felt he was not given a fair hearing over the allegations, which he denies.

For full background analysis, read my by-elections day primer here

12.10 am — Are we witnessing the end of “Long Boris”? Even if the prime minister loses three by-elections tonight, the first PM to do so since 1968 (see 23.55 pm), the optimists in the Conservative camp might see the swathe of losses as the definitive end to the Boris Johnson arc in British politics.

Since Sunak took over as prime minister in October last year, he has been buffeted by an array of Boris Johnson-adjacent scandals — think Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, the legacy of partygate and, today, the Uxbridge and Selby by-elections. But is that all “Long Boris” wrote?

Without Johnson manoeuvring in Westminster (he doesn’t even have an ex-members pass thanks to the privileges committee), and with some of his key allies either departed or about to depart — does this free the prime minister up to move on?

Of course, we may need to wait until parliament returns in September and the Conservative party conference expected later that month for the definitive answers to these questions.

In the meantime, I’ve written on the pernicious impact of “Long Boris” on Sunak’s political prospects here.

23.55 pm — After tonight, Rishi Sunak could secure his place in the history books. With all three by-elections predicted to reject the Conservative candidate, Sunak could become the first PM since Harold Wilson in 1968 to lose three seats at by-elections on the same day.

Sunak is also the first Conservative PM since 1973 to defend three seats on the same day. Edward Heath held onto two and lost one that time round. Sunak wishes he could be so fortunate.

23.45 pm — 🚨 The Liberal Democrats are claiming victory in Somerton and Frome. Sky News is reporting that a party spokesperson has said this: “We’ve not just won, we’ve romped home, and the Conservative vote is in free-fall”.

To be clear, we are still many hours from an official result, but this, combined with MP Christine Jardine’s comments earlier (see 10.58 pm), show a serious confidence in the Lib Dem camp. The party has been speaking openly for some time about its projected success in the seat — there’ll be a lot of egg on the Lib Dems’ faces if this does not play out as predicted.

23.38 pm — What have the candidates had to say today?

11.30 pm — Meet the key contenders. In Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Labour candidate Danny Beales is facing off with Conservative Steve Tuckwell. The campaign’s key issue has been London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the contentious Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Tuckwell has been majoring on this issue throughout the campaign, whereas Beales’ focus has been primarily on national developments, including and especially the conduct of Uxbridge’s former MP Boris Johnson.

In Selby and Ainsty, 25-year-old Keir Mather — who like Sir Keir is named after Labour’s first leader — would become the new baby of the House if he wins. It is Conservative candidate Claire Holmes who wants to retain the seat for her party.

Somerton and Frome sees the Liberal Democrat’s Sarah Dyke compete with Faye Purbrick, the Conservative candidate.

11.19 pm — “Anything can happen in a by-election”, says Conservative MP Andrew Jones.

I have only been in Selby and Ainsty, I haven’t been to any of the other by-elections. So I can’t give you a broader comment. But I’ve been out on the doors in Selby and Ainsty today and of course over the past few weeks, but it’s felt really a very individual by-election. I’ve been going to by-elections for a considerable number of years, but this has felt more local and more personal.

Asked for his predictions, he adds:

But obviously as well, this has been a period of extreme political turbulence, and anything can happen in a by-election.

And do the Conservative have a problem in farming constituencies? “Oh, I haven’t experienced that on the doors”, says Jones. He continues:

I’ve actually experienced some of the most strong support from that community. But I think quite frankly, this is gonna be an election where, who is made that connection to local people, that’s going to be the determining factor.

11.07 pm — Has there been “de facto cooperation” between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in these by-elections? It has been suggested that Labour activists haven’t tried especially hard in Somerton and Frome where the Liberal Democrats are favourites to best the Conservative candidate, Faye Purbrick.

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds responds to this point on BBC Newsnight:

Well, I have to say that when there’s been talk of pacts or backroom deals, now that’s generally come from the Conservatives really to distract from their own chaos. No, actually, we have a really strong candidate. … Neil Guild [Labour candidate] is somebody who really understands local transport, local services in that area.

10.58 pm —The Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesperson Christine Jardine on the party’s performance in Somerton and Frome:

We’ve had a very positive response. And I think, you know, I’m gonna say, … we are confident that we’re going to see a result in our favour. … That would be huge, because it’s a 19,000 majority here that would take a 15% swing [from the Conservatives].

10.49 pm The spinning begins. Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds tells BBC Newsnight:

I think whatever the result one thing is very clear and it’s been clear to me and I’ve been speaking with people on the doorstep that there will be people in this election who will be voting Labour for the first time that we see that Keir Starmer,has turned the Labour Party around that the Labour Party is in the service of working people.

And I think that will definitely be the case, whatever the eventual result from these by-elections will be.

10.40 pm — Another step in the Liberal Democrat revival? The Lib Dems famously love a by-election, last year they bested the Conservatives in Tiverton in Honiton thanks to a swing to the party of 38 per cent. Before that, two by-elections in 2021 in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire saw both seats flip from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems.

On this occasion, the Liberal Democrats are feeling confident that they will win in Somerton and Frome. A rural seat in Somerset, Somerton and Frome was in the hands of the Liberal Democrats until 2015. But since then, it has become a relatively safe Conservative seat, with ex-MP David Warburton winning 56 per cent of the vote, a majority of almost 30 per cent, at the 2019 election. It would be a significant for the Liberal Democrats tonight.

10.30 pm — What are Labour’s chances looking like tonight? Rishi Sunak aside for now, this is also a crunch moment for Keir Starmer, who will want to prove Labour can act on its long-held double-digit lead over the Conservatives and win in historically unlikely areas. Labour want to win in Selby and Ainsty (2019 majority 20,137) and Uxbridge and Ruislip (2019 majority 7,210). 

In Uxbridge particularly, a Labour win in Boris Johnson’s former seat would hand Starmer a major symbolic victory in his bid to march his party back into power. The smaller majority would also seemingly make this a nailed-on win for Labour – but on the ground activists attest that Sadiq Khan’s planned expansion of the contentious Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has complicated proceedings. (More on this later).

In Selby and Ainsty, the 18-point swing required for victory would also far outstrip Labour’s by-election performances this parliament.

10.17 pm — ARTICLE: How bad will Rishi Sunak’s by-election trauma be?

Expectations right now lean towards the Conservative party losing all three by-election contests. It means Rishi Sunak could become the first PM since Harold Wilson in 1968 to lose three seats at by-elections on the same day. Such a poor performance by the Conservatives would, of course, raise new questions about the PM’s ability to revive his party’s political fortunes in time for a general election expected next year.

Read the full background to today’s by-elections here.

10.00 pm — Welcome to politics.co.uk’s live blog on this crucial night for the prime minister’s political prospects. Polls have now closed in Uxbridge and Ruislip, Somerton and Frome, and Selby and Ainsty and vote counting is now underway.