Sadiq Khan is biggest by-election loser – he just handed Tories a major lifeline

Steve Tuckwell’s victory speech in Uxbridge and South Ruislip

Steve Tuckwell, the newly elected Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, could not have been more honest or clear about the reason he won a shock victory against all the odds last night.

He said: “Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election. And we know that it was his damaging and costly ULEZ (ultra-low emission zone expansion) policy that lost them this election.”

There was no pretence at thanking the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak or extolling the virtues of the Conservative Party in government from a man whose strategy throughout the campaign was to run as “a local champion” and “anti-ULEZ campaigner.”

That too spoke volumes.

But as the old saying goes “a win is a win is a win” whatever the reason and Mr Tuckwell and Khan have now given Sunak’s Premiership a much-needed lifeline in a shocking night of winners and losers in London, Somerset and North Yorkshire.

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Loser: Sadiq Khan

When Boris Johnson walked away as an MP over the controversial Privileges Committee report which claimed he had deliberately lied to Parliament, Uxbridge and South Ruislip seemed like an easy win for Labour with the Tories holding a majority of a little over 7,000.

But as one Labour MP noted to Express.co.uk: “We are about to find out who is more unpopular, Sadiq Khan as London Mayor or Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister.”

The people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip gave their verdict last night and the answer was not just Mr Khan but particularly his vindictive expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which will cost thousands of people £12.50 a day, potentially around £4,500 a year.

Already deeply unpopular in the Labour Party and now apparently hated by voters in London there are questions about whether Khan can be his party’s candidate for London Mayor in May next year with Tory candidate Susan Hall set to use the successful Mr Tuckwell formula against him.

Mr Khan was banished from making an appearance in the by-election and candidate Danny Beales disavowed his ULEZ policy.

Now there are at least two London MPs – Dawn Butler and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan – who are looking to replace Khan as Labour candidate.

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Winner: Rishi Sunak

Napoleon always asked for lucky generals over skilled ones and Mr Sunak appears to have fallen into that category last night.

It is not often that a Prime Minister can see his party lose two by-elections while defending majorities of around 20,000 and still somehow feel he has come out as a winner.

But in desperate times any win, however achieved is something to be cherished.

There were and probably remain Tory MPs who were prepared to try to oust him.

Letters were going to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, or being prepared to call another leadership vote.

But now Conservatives MPs may just believe they may as well see what happens at the next election. There is after all at least one politician, Sadiq Khan, more unpopular than Sunak.

Added to that Uxbridge has exposed Labour’s Achilles heel. It is not just Mr Khan but Welsh Labour with mad anti-driver policies.

Mr Sunak though lives to fight another day.

Losers: Tory MPs in the south of England

The 55 percent swing to the Lib Dems in Somerton and Frome should scare the living daylights out of Conservative MPs in the south of England.

Throughout the last year with the collapse of the Tories in the polls, there has been a constant feeling that support for the Lib Dems has also been constantly underplayed in those same polls.

What Somerton and Frome has done, just as Chesham and Amersham did in 2021, is underline that traditionally safe Tory seats in the south are now vulnerable.

Of course, it can be argued that by-elections always produce dramatic results and the status quo is often returned to in general elections.

But it was also noticeable, as one senior minister put it to Express.co.uk, that in the recent local elections debacle the Lib Dems made more gains than expected and Labour less.

It was in the traditional southern Tory blue wall heartlands, not the new former Labour red wall seats where the worst damage was caused.

Seats across the south west of England and in Hampshire, Surrey and also in gentile parts of the north west are now exposed to a Lib Dem surge as well as a Labour one.

Big names like Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt should be looking at their constituencies and wondering if they are really safe.

Winner: Sir Keir Starmer

There is no getting away from the fact that when your party gets a record swing to overturn a majority of more than 20,000 in a seat the Conservatives have always held then it is a very good night.

The victory in Selby and Ainsty appears to confirm that despite all his U-turns, all the chuntering on the Labour benches about the two-child benefits limit, all the angst from Corbynistas and the lack of any discernable charisma, Sir Keir is on his way to Downing Street probably next year.

Selby was a significant victory and while Uxbridge was a bitter pill, it is one he can pin the blame for on Sadiq Khan with some justification.

Added to that it now gives him the leverage he needs over Mr Khan and perhaps an opportunity to find a new candidate in London.

Whatever Sir Keir is doing – and it is a bit confusing to watch – seems to be working.

There is something to be said about being safe and normal.

Loser: Net zero policies

The issue of banning road building, taxing people to drive by the mile and creating 15-minute towns to charge people if they strayed too far from home was rising below the radar.

As the push for Net Zero continues and the fanaticism around it in some town halls and within Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens grows, the result in Uxbridge proved that voters do not like it.

If the Tories have any sense they will sit up and take notice – but it feels unlikely that they will.

ULEZ was what won it in Uxbridge but Labour are quietly pushing these crazy policies in places like Wales where they have banned building new roads and elsewhere.

Already Mr Sunak has realised that not drilling for oil and gas in the UK is an election loser for Labour. It seems obvious now that the anti-driver policies are even worse.

But other areas like forcing people to replace gas boilers with expensive green alternatives which don’t work or banning fossil fuel cars by 2030 are also about to become major issues.

Uxbridge and South Ruislip could be a political turning point, perhaps not for Sunak himself, but certainly for how we view Net Zero policies.

The message seems to be: “Enough is enough already.”

Just Stop Oil won’t like that!

Winner: Laurence Fox

To get 2.3 percent in a by-election which was really a two-horse race between the Tories and Labour with no resources and little mainstream media coverage was a strong result for Laurence Fox.

It would have been more satisfying for him and his Reclaim Party if he had taken enough votes to stop the Conservatives from winning.

Nevertheless beating the Lib Dems into fifth and coming fourth shows that his party, which is still building up, can have an impact, especially on free speech, anti-net zero and woke issues.

He may not have kept his deposit but Mr Fox can bank some political credibility from this vote and it will give his one MP Andrew Bridgen (formerly of the Conservatives) some hope in holding North West Leicestershire, come the election.

Added to that and probably even more important was the win handed to him by the BBC who announced that they would refuse to interview him after the result “even if he won”.

A nice PR victory for a man who is running against the mainstream woke establishment embodied, in many people’s eyes, by the BBC itself.

Loser: Spring general election in 2024

There were three possible timings for the next general election – spring next year, autumn next year and January 2025.

The disasters in Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome have all but guaranteed that Mr Sunak will not push for a surprise election in the spring much earlier than he needs.

The most likely option now is October/ November 2024 but do not rule out the Prime Minister taking it to the last possible moment in January of the following year.

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