The Conservatives have held onto their safe seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup in a closely watched by-election, but with a majority slashed by more than half amid low voter turnout.
Conservative councillor Louie French becomes the country’s newest MP, in a victory that was hailed as “almost unheard of” for a sitting government by the Conservatives.
Mr French won 11,189 votes, more than 50 per cent of a low turnout that saw only a third of eligible voters taking part in the seat previously held by the former cabinet minister James Brokenshire, who died in October from lung cancer aged 53.
The closest challenger was Labour’s Daniel Francis, who secured 6,711 as the Tory majority was slashed from nearly 19,000 to 4,478, the equivalent of a vote share swing of 10 per cent to Labour.
Mr French used his acceptance speech to pay tribute to his “good friend” Brokenshire. He said: “This has been a tough contest, which has been fought with dignity and respect.”
“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,” he added.
The Conservatives had been confident of retaining the Old Bexley and Sidcup constituency, despite allegations about sleaze and Boris Johnson’s chaotic speech to the Confederation of British Industry.
Reform leader Richard Tice came in third, claiming his party was now “on the upward march”, while the Greens in fourth and Liberal Democrats in fifth both lost their deposits.
Mr Tice 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.”
Turnout in the contest was just 34 per cent, down from the almost 70 per cent who voted in the 2019 general election.
Alongside Reform and the Conservatives, Labour also celebrated the results, with party sources telling the Press Association that a tilt of that margin in the prime minister’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip would be enough to oust him.
Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves 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 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.”
She added that the swing showed that “even for Tory heartland voters Boris Johnson’s jokes aren’t funny any more”.
But Tory deputy chairman Justin Tomlinson told PA: “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.”
He added that the result was an “absolute disaster” for the Labour Party, saying: “They do not look like a government in waiting.”
Additional reporting by agencies