The Labour leader said ‘it’s a sign of how far we’ve come since 2019 that we are pushing the Tories in these areas’.
Winning the Tamworth by-election would be a “tough ask” for his party, Sir Keir Starmer said, as he visited the seat ahead of next week’s by-election.
The poll will be a key test for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pitch that the Conservatives represent a vote for change, especially as the cause of the by-election is linked to one of the pivotal moments of former PM Boris Johnson’s downfall.
Former Tory whip Chris Pincher, who had represented the constituency since 2010, resigned as an MP last month after losing an appeal against a Commons suspension for drunkenly groping two men.
He had been sitting as an independent MP since July 2022, having lost the Tory whip after the allegations emerged.
Mr Johnson’s handling of the incident when the allegations first surfaced, including when it emerged he had previously been told of allegations of “inappropriate” conduct by Mr Pincher, was the final straw for many of his ministers, and it precipitated a cascade of resignations that ultimately ended his premiership.
At the last general election in 2019, Mr Pincher won a majority of 19,634 for the Tories.
But with Labour overturning a 20,000 Conservative majority in Selby and Ainsty in July, and with the opposition party enjoying double-digit poll leads, Sir Keir’s party is looking for a win to maintain a sense of momentum going into the next general election.
Labour’s failure to overturn a 7,000 majority in the London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip on the same day as the Selby and Ainsty by-election in July was widely associated with Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s extension of the city’s ultra low emission zone.
Mr Sunak has since shifted the Government’s approach to reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality, with critics saying he is watering down environmental targets.
But the Prime Minister has said he is taking a “fairer and more pragmatic approach” to reach net zero, which he says demonstrates in part why he is the party leader who will “do things differently”.
Sir Keir visited Landau Forte Academy sixth form in Tamworth on Friday, with his party’s candidate, Sarah Edwards.
Sir Keir said: “This by-election will be a tough ask. We have to earn every vote. But it’s a sign of how far we’ve come since 2019 that we are pushing the Tories in these areas. It’s a two-horse race here.”
He added: “My message to Conservative voters in Tamworth, who are fed up with this chaotic government, is to vote for Labour’s Sarah Edwards to send a message that enough is enough, and it’s time for a change.”
The by-election in the Staffordshire seat will take place on October 19, the same day as the contest for former culture secretary Nadine Dorries’ Mid Bedfordshire constituency.