Matt Hancock cost us the by-election: Tory MPs round on Boris Johnson over his failure to sack ex Health Secretary after Tories were narrowly defeated in Batley and Spen
- Boris Johnson faced fury over his failure to sack Matt Hanock after by-election
- Labour overcame the odds to hold the Batley and Spen seat by just 323 votes
- Party chairman Amanda Milling pointed the finger at Matt Hancock afterwards
- She said his breaking of coronavirus rules by kissing a married aide ‘came up’
Boris Johnson faced furious recriminations over his failure to sack Matt Hancock last night after the Tories were narrowly deprived of victory in the Batley and Spen by-election.
Labour overcame the odds to hold the seat by just 323 votes, providing a desperately needed boost for Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.
The disappointing result for the Conservatives prompted an immediate blame game, with the party’s chairman pointing the finger at the former health secretary’s affair.
Amanda Milling admitted that Mr Hancock’s breaking of coronavirus rules by kissing a married aide ‘was something that came up on the doorstep’.
But angry backbenchers claimed the party could actually have taken the seat if the Prime Minister had sacked the minister when the news first broke.
Boris Johnson faced furious recriminations over his failure to sack Matt Hancock last night after the Tories were narrowly deprived of victory in the Batley and Spen by-election
Instead, Downing Street issued a statement saying that Mr Johnson considered the matter ‘closed’ and Mr Hancock did not depart until the following day.
Even when Mr Hancock did quit, Mr Johnson told him in a letter that ‘your contribution to public service is far from over’ – a hint of a possible future return to the frontbench.
One Tory MP said last night: ‘It’s easy to blame Matt, but it’s as much the PM’s fault for not sacking him sooner.’
Another added: ‘It doesn’t take a genius to work out how we could have won.’
Kim Leadbeater won for Labour – in the seat where her murdered sister Jo Cox had been the MP – with 13,296 votes, beating Conservative Ryan Stephenson on 12,973.
Veteran Left-winger George Galloway – who had targeted the constituency’s Muslim voters in a campaign to topple Sir Keir – was third with 8,264.
The by-election was triggered after Tracy Brabin, the former Coronation Street actress who was Mrs Cox’s successor, was elected mayor of West Yorkshire and stood down.
The Conservatives had been confident of repeating their success from the Hartlepool by-election eight weeks ago when they turned the Red Wall seat blue, as well as making up for their loss to the Liberal Democrats in Chesham and Amersham a fortnight ago.
Amanda Milling pointed the figure at Matt Hancock, admitting that his breaking of coronavirus rules by kissing married aide Gina Coladangelo ‘was something that came up on the doorstep’
Their campaign had been helped by the standing down of a former Ukip candidate who picked up 6,432 votes at the last election, as well as Mr Galloway taking traditionally Labour support.
But Sir Keir yesterday declared ‘Labour is back’ in the wake of his party’s victory.
Miss Milling said that it had been a ‘tremendous result’ for the Tories to get so close in a constituency which Labour held with a 3,525 majority at the 2019 general election.
She also insisted that Mr Johnson remained very popular among voters. ‘There is a lot of love for the Prime Minister. He gets a tremendous lot of support on the doorstep,’ she said.
But the Tory co-chairman acknowledged that the row over Mr Hancock had been an issue in the final stages of the campaign.
‘It was something that came up on the doorstep, I have to be honest about that. [Voters] had some issues over the weekend in terms of what happened,’ she told Sky News.
The Prime Minister last night dismissed criticism of his party’s failure to take the seat, which has been held by Labour since 1997.
At a press conference at Chequers, Mr Johnson said Tory candidate Mr Stephenson had fought an ‘incredibly positive campaign’ and ‘did very well to reduce a longstanding Labour majority several decades old to only 323’.
The PM claimed it was the ‘third biggest swing in favour of the government since the war’.
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