The Conservatives have held the Old Bexley and Sidcup parliamentary seat – as expected – in a by-election, but three parties claimed a form of “victory” as the Tories saw their majority slashed.
The constituency was held by former Cabinet minister James Brokenshire until his death in October, and the Tories cruised to a victory despite a bruising few weeks for Boris Johnson’s administration.
Local Tory councillor Louie French won with a majority of 4,47. But this was significantly reduced from 18,592 in 2019 as the party saw a swing of 10.23% to Labour, who finished in second.
A tilt of that margin in the prime minister’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip would be enough to oust him, Labour sources said.
The full results were:
Louie French (Con) 11,189 (51.48%, -13.06%)
Daniel Francis (Lab) 6,711 (30.88%, +7.40%)
Richard Tice (Reform) 1,432 (6.59%)
Jonathan Rooks (Green) 830 (3.82%, +0.62%)
Simone Reynolds (Lib Dem) 647 (2.98%, -5.31%)
Elaine Cheeseman (Eng Dem) 271 (1.25%)
John Poynton (UKIP) 184 (0.85%)
Richard Hewison (Rejoin) 151 (0.69%)
David Kurten (Heritage) 116 (0.53%)
Carol Valinejad (CPA) 108 (0.50%)
Mad Mike Young (Loony) 94 (0.43%)
The contest took place following damaging headlines over allegations of sleaze, claims that lockdown rules were broken in No 10 and the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Another big talking point will be a turnout of just 34% – 21,788 votes – which suggests the by-election contest has failed to excite the public, albeit in December when getting the vote out proves difficult.
Brokenshire held the south-east London seat with a majority of almost 19,000 at the 2019 general election, taking 64.5% of the vote.
Reform leader Richard Tice came in third, claiming his party was now “on the upward march”. The Greens in fourth and Liberal Democrats in fifth both lost their deposits.
French used his acceptance speech to pay tribute to his “good friend” Brokenshire, who died from lung cancer.
He said: “This has been a tough contest, which has been fought with dignity and respect.”
Soon after the result was announced, the spinning operation began in earnest.
The Conservatives said French’s victory was “almost unheard of” for a sitting government.
Tory deputy chairman Justin Tomlinson said: “We’re absolutely thrilled. For a government to get over 50% of the vote in a parliamentary by-election is almost unheard of, and with a majority of over 20%.
“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.”
But the Labour Party sounded an upbeat note despite their loss. As well as the swing, they pointed to their 30.8% share of the vote – the party’s highest share in the seat for 20 years.
Ellie Reeves, MP for Lewisham West and Penge, said: “We’re pleased with the result tonight.
“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. There’s been a 10% 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.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.