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Batley and Spen by-election was a setback for the Tories but Hancock was not entirely to blame

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When Conservative MPs tripped over themselves at Prime Minister’s Questions this week to mention the Batley and Spen by-election, it was clear the Tories believed they were on to a winner. The party appeared to be on course to turn the Labour stronghold blue for the first time since 1992 with pollsters and pundits predicting a Tory win.

Instead, the Tories fell short – with Labour managing to cling on to the seat by just 323 votes. In any other time, that would be viewed as a disappointing result for the Opposition in a mid-term by-election in one of its own seats.

However, after the local elections saw the Tories take Hartlepool from Labour, expectations were riding high that Boris Johnson would be able to do it again. Meanwhile, talk was rife of a leadership challenge against Sir Keir Starmer were he to lose it.

Now it’s being talked up as a Labour triumph. “We all thought we were going to win,” says one Tory MP who campaigned in the seat. “The mood is very sombre.”

The result means that Starmer has some breathing space. While it isn’t a large majority, there is a big sense of relief among Labour MPs while the party high command is delighted.

Starmer has been behaving as though he won by a landslide – declaring: “Labour is coming home.” After a........

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