Story of the night: how dramatic Uxbridge by-election result unfolded

Story of the night: how dramatic Uxbridge by-election result unfolded

“I wasn’t expected to win,” new Tory MP Steve Tuckwell told reporters after his shock victory in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election this morning.

The Hillingdon councillor was the underdog in the fight for Boris Johnson’s former seat.

He was eight points behind Labour in the polls, having fought the entire parliamentary election campaign on a single local issue - opposition to Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez).

“My campaign has been incredibly single minded,” Mr Tuckwell admitted, having secured victory by just 495 votes.

“It’s been the complete opposition to Ulez from the outset.”

Labour MPs conceded that the City Hall plan, that will see the owners of more polluting cars face a £12.50 charge from August, was a problem on the doorstep in the west London constituency.

Their candidate, Danny Beales, distanced himself from the scheme a week into his campaign, saying it “wasn’t the right time” for it during a cost of living crisis.

Labour believed economic turmoil, sky-high inflation and the spectre of Mr Johnson would be enough to propel voters away from the Tories.

“What’s £12.50 when your mortgage is going up £500 a month?,” one MP told The Standard on polling day.

Mr Tuckwell had other factors running against him. As the count began, his staffers pointed out he was last of 17 names on the extra-long ballot paper and there were two independent anti-Ulez parties in the race.

Conservative party winning candidate Steve Tuckwell in Queensmead Sports Centre shakes hands with Labour candidate Danny Beales (PA)
Conservative party winning candidate Steve Tuckwell in Queensmead Sports Centre shakes hands with Labour candidate Danny Beales (PA)

With such a large field of weird and wonderful candidates it promised to be a colourful count.

Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-vax, climate change denier brother Piers was told he definitely couldn’t bring a big drum into the counting hall.

Anti-Ulez candidate Kingsley Hamilton was denied entry unless he left his life-sized, cardboard coffin emblazed with the word “democracy” outside.

Just minutes after counting began, ex-Tory MP Andrew Bridgen was overheard warning actor and Reform candidate Laurence Fox “not to get into a punch up with the BBC”.

An exhausted Tory staffer was seen frantically trying to track down MP David Simmonds who had “forgotten” he was signed up to appear on Newsnight and hadn’t turned up. Much mocking ensued about the party “running scared” as the Government faced three predicated by-election defeats across the country. And this all before 11pm.

Labour had thrown everything they had at the west London seat.

Yesterday morning so many activists, councillors and MPs flooded into the area for a last minute vote drive it was “almost impossible to walk down a road in the borough without being canvassed by someone in a red rosette”.

When the polls closed at 10pm it was fair to say they were the more confident party.

Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed told the Standard: “It felt to me like a very warm reception on the doorstep. I know it’s anecdotal, but you do get a bit of a sense from that about how an election is going and it felt very good to me.”

The Liberal Democrats declaring that they had “not just won but romped home” in Somerton and Frome after ballots had barely been verified, let alone counted, did little to help Tory morale.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

But by 1am the mood was noticeably darker in the red camp, and signs they had underestimated huge voter anger at the Ulez were creeping in.

And then just before 2am one Labour staffer acknowledged “we could be in recount territory”, which is exactly what happened 30 minutes later.

The suddenly much more energetic Tories were keen to let onlookers know they certainly hadn’t called for one and were quite happy with the result as it stood.

In the end, Mr Tuckwell won 13,965 votes, to Mr Beales’ 13,470.

The new MP gave away that he had not expected to win in his acceptance speech, which focused solely on Mr Khan and the Ulez. He did not mention any of the Tory party’s five pledges or Rishi Sunak, the man he had just spared from being the first Prime Minister since Harold Wilson in 1968 to lose three by-elections on the same day.

“Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election,” Mr Tuckwell said.

Later as he left the count, he declared: “Labour MPs in outer London will be looking at this result will sweaty palms.”

Count Binface, the “space lord” candidate who wears a bin on his face, claimed to have split the Labour vote and caused the Tory victory.

The Count more than doubled the number of votes (69) he secured in 2019 to 190, coming in eighth.

“It’s an interesting night,” he told The Standard.