LABOUR has romped home in the Corby by-election as bitter recriminations began over the dire turnout for new police and crime commissioner (PCC) posts.
Andy Sawford secured a majority of nearly 8,000 in seizing the Commons seat from the Tories, comfortably defeating rival Christine Emmett.
• Labour candidate Andy Sawford won 17,267 votes against Conservative Party representative Christine Emmett’s 9,476 on a 12.67 per cent swing to Labour
• Ed Miliband hailed the victory, saying: “Middle England is turning away from David Cameron and the Conservatives because Middle England feels let down by David Cameron and the Conservatives”
• Ukip recorded best ever parliamentary by-election result
It was the first time in 15 years that Labour has won a House of Commons seat from the Tories in a by-election, and victorious candidate Andy Sawford suggested it had set the party on track for a successful general election in 2015, declaring: “The road to Downing Street runs through Corby.”
The Liberal Democrats humiliatingly lost their deposit despite demanding a last-ditch recount.
The result was a blow for David Cameron as he struggled to defend the Government’s handling of PCC elections, which saw as few as 10% of voters bothering to cast a ballot in some areas.
The Prime Minister insisted the victorious candidates still had a mandate, arguing that turnout was always going to be low for new posts. But the Electoral Commission announced that it will carry out an inquiry into the lack of public engagement, saying it had disagreed with “a number of decisions” taken by the coalition.
Labour branded the elections a “complete shambles”, and there were also signs of a backlash from within Mr Cameron’s own party, with Conservative backbencher Conor Burns posting on Twitter: “I suspect we will live to regret creating these police commissioners. I regret voting for the Bill.”
The by-election in the Northamptonshire seat was forced by the resignation of Conservative MP Louise Mensch to spend more time with her family in the USA.
Last night she took to Twitter to accept the blame for her party’s failure to retain the seat, which was Labour from 1997 until 2010.
But Mr Sawford said the result was “a damning verdict on (David) Cameron’s betrayal of the British people”.
Mr Sawford won 17,267 votes, against Conservative Christine Emmett’s 9,476, on a 12.67% swing from Tories to Labour, overturning a Tory majority of 1,951 in the 2010 general election.
Liberal Democrats were beaten into fourth place by the UK Independence Party, and Nick Clegg’s party suffered the indignity of losing its deposit, despite requesting two recounts.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna dismissed Tory claims that the by-election was a verdict on resigned MP Louise Mensch, insisting it was an endorsement of Labour under Ed Miliband.
“The only person that residents and voters in Corby were talking to me about were David Cameron and George Osborne,” he told the BBC News Channel.
“This is a damning indictment of their failed economic plan, which is hitting people really hard, people are losing their jobs, people are paying huge tuition fees - and in addition to that, it’s a continuing endorsement of Ed Miliband’s leadership.
“Generally, Corby has voted for the winning party and this is Labour winning back support in a key seat with the key demographics that we need to win support from to win a majority in the next general election. It’s good progress.”
Mr Sawford said the result was a “damning verdict”, delivered by middle England, on David Cameron’s premiership.
In his victory speech, he said: “This result is a historic gain for today’s One Nation Labour Party.
“Today, Middle England has spoken and they have sent a very clear message to David Cameron.”
He added: “Make no mistake, since this constituency existed, no party has formed a government without winning. The road to Downing Street runs through Corby.”
Mr Sawford said the result showed that Labour, under Mr Miliband, was earning back the trust of the voters it had lost in 2010.
“This result is a damning verdict on Cameron’s betrayal of the British people,” he added.
Responding to the Corby result, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It’s a classic mid-term result and obviously made difficult by the fact that the Conservative MP left the seat in question.
“Obviously with mid-term results you listen carefully to what people are saying but when I look across the country and see that Labour haven’t won in Bristol, can’t win in Swindon, can’t win in the middle of Wales, I think it is a very mixed picture and shows there is no enthusiasm for the alternative.
“What the Government needs to do is keep going with the very important plans we have to get our economy and country back on track.”
Conservative sources suggested Labour had failed the so-called “Crewe Test” in Corby. For Mr Miliband’s party to be doing well in mid-term, it needs to be able to match the Tory performance in the 2008 Crewe by-election, when they took the Cheshire seat from Labour on a swing of more than 17.6%, said a party source.
Labour’s swing is comparable to the Monmouth by-election of 1991, when the Conservatives went on to regain the seat and hold on to power in the 1992 general election, said the Tory source.
Speaking in the Corby constituency at an appearance alongside Labour’s victorious candidate, Ed Miliband said: “This constituency is at the heart of our country and this constituency has sent a very clear message today.
“It sent a message that it is putting its trust in a One Nation Labour Party.
“Middle England is turning away from David Cameron and the Conservatives because Middle England feels let down by David Cameron and the Conservatives.
“Mr Cameron has said today that he wants to listen and he is right - he should listen to the people of this constituency and he has got a lot to listen to.
“He should listen to the young people who have said they want hope for the future. He should listen to those people who are saying ‘Why are you raising my taxes and cutting my services when you are cutting taxes for millionaires?’.
“And he should listen to those people who say ‘You told us before the election you would protect local health services, why are you undermining them?’.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the Corby result was the party’s best ever in a parliamentary by-election and showed it had become “the third force in British politics”.
“This is a great result for Ukip,” he said.
“Along with the other results coming in from around the country today - including the 31% we scored in a council by-election in Manchester - it confirms that we are now established as the third force in British politics.
“As a Corby resident said on Question Time last night ‘Ukip is a breath of fresh air’.
“This is our best by-election result ever. We now move on to the by-election in Rotherham.”