Labour still lagging behind Tories despite by-election results, says Lord Austin

Labour is still lagging behind the Tories and needs to do much more to win the next general election, Lord Austin has said.

Lord Austin said Labour remains some way off winning a general election
Lord Austin said Labour remains some way off winning a general election

The former Dudley North MP, who quit Labour in opposition to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, said victory in the Wakefield by-election marked "a good night" for his old party.

But he said the result, coupled with the Lib Dems win in Tiverton and Honiton, did not mean Labour was primed to win a national poll.

Meanwhile, another former Black Country Labour heavyweight, Tom Watson, said voters would "reserve judgement" on Sir Keir Starmer's party until they see the next election manifesto.

Lord Austin has been a major critic of Labour since he resigned from the party in February 2019.

He said: "Obviously it’s a good night for Labour and the Lib Dems and a bad one for the Tories, but historically, by-elections tell us very little about subsequent general elections."

Mr Austin pointed out that the Tories had lost 15 seats at by-elections between 1979 and 1992, but went on to win general elections in 1983, 1987 and 1992.

He said while the Conservatives lost eight by-elections after 1992 ahead of the general election defeat in 1997, Labour had much bigger leads in opinion polls all the way through.

"Labour needs to be much further ahead now to be confident of winning the next election," Lord Austin said.

Former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson

He said "even under" Ed Miliband Labour won Corby off the Tories in a by-election in 2012, but that the tables were turned at the 2015 general election when the seat turned blue again.

"Incidentally, last time a government lost two by-elections on the same day was in 1991 at Langbaurgh and at Kincardine & Deeside," Lord Austin added.

"The Conservatives won both back at the 1992 general election six months later. So a good night for Labour, but it does not predict a general election."

Former Labour deputy leader and West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson, who stood down ahead of the 2019 general election, has also urged caution over his old party's election prospects.

He told GB News it was "very hard" for Labour to win back the trust of voters after the disastrous result in 2019.

Mr Watson said in Sir Keir voters saw a leader with "great integrity and decency".

"They now want to look at the team around him and will reserve judgement until they look at a manifesto of the next election," he added.

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