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Mon, 27 May 2024

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Tories Learnt The "Wrong Lessons" From Narrow By-Election Victory, Labour’s Defeated Candidate Says

Rishi Sunak and MP Steve Tuckwell following Conservative by-election win in Uxbridge and Ruislip (alamy)

4 min read

Labour’s defeated candidate from July’s Uxbridge by-election has insisted that the Conservatives learnt the “wrong lessons” from their victory, as parties brace for the possibility of new contests.

Danny Beales told PoliticsHome the Conservatives are “reading the tea-leaves wrong” if they believe the pro-car rhetoric that helped them win Uxbridge, where there was significant local opposition to the expansion of Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) policy, should inform campaigning strategy elsewhere. 

Since missing out on taking Boris Johnson’s former seat by just 495 votes to Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell, Labour has since overturned huge Conservative majorities in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth. It is likely the Conservatives will be forced to defend its formally safe seat of Wellingborough in a further by-election following the suspension of MP Peter Bone.

Having successfully weaponised opposition to Khan’s ULEZ expansion, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak subsequently announced he would push back environmental goals including delaying a ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars.

But Beales believed this was the wrong reaction from government. “Ulez is a real issue, it’s a live issue. It’s a proper policy change that is happening and people have strong feelings about it,” he said.

“The idea that people are fed up [nationally] about a meat tax that doesn’t exist or seven bins that don’t exist is fantasyland.”

He does not however feel responsible for the government’s net zero U-turn. “They’re a law unto themselves,” Beales added. 

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, called when former prime minister Johnson resigned as an MP for the constituency, saw the Conservatives hold onto the seat by less than 500 votes but on the same day they would go on to lose by-elections in Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome. Beales therefore rejects the idea that Uxbridge can be chalked up as much of a victory. 

“They heavily lost two safe Tory seats and almost lost another by the skin of their teeth,” he said. 

Beales said that in response Labour had “heard that we need to be on the side of working people”, which he believed was more important. 

“We need to be resolutely listening to the things that matter to them and to make it easier for them to aspire, to get on, to start a business, to work, to be the party that makes it easier for people to drive to work, makes it easier to buy a house, makes it easier to get a good education for your kids,” he explained. 

Beales, who after his defeat has decided to continue as Labour’s candidate for the next general election, which must be called before the end of 2024, does not regret that the contest will no longer be against Johnson himself as a result of the former PM’s resignation. 

“I certainly wasn’t gutted that I didn’t get a chance to beat him. The sooner he left politics the better. I think our politics is better for not having people like Boris Johnson in it,” he said. 

“It felt like the world’s media and everyone’s attention was on Uxbridge and South Ruislip. I don’t know if it could have been even more high-profile. He’s a marmite figure: people love him or hate him. I don’t know how that would have played into the dynamic.”

Beales is cagey on his preference for the timing of the next election; a May election for instance, raises the prospect of once again overlapping Beales fortunes with Sadiq Khan, who will be seeking re-election at the same time in the London mayoral election. 

“It’s difficult when you have multiple elections running at the same time how you distinguish between those choices – I think it’s slightly more challenging when you’re talking about change and we’re incumbent in London,” he said. 

“Come a general election I do sense that people will be thinking strongly about what kind of government they want and who they want in No. 10. I think people realise a by-election is not necessarily the same choice as a general election.”

 

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