Given the universal forecasts of the Tories taking a proper pasting in yesterday’s elections, it is quite something for Rishi Sunak’s party to have done worse than expected. But a truly dismal result in the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election, coupled with early council results indicating the party could end up losing half of the thousand or so seats it was defending, show that Sunak has managed to do just that.

In Blackpool, the Conservatives managed to attract just 3,218 voters to their corner, compared to 16,247 at the 2019 general election. Labour took the seat with 10,825 votes, compared to the 12,557 it lost with in 2019.

Is it a crumb of comfort that apathy could therefore be said to be the true winner of the by-election? Hardly. While there are sound reasons to believe Labour is struggling to actively convert many 2019 Tory voters, it really doesn’t need to when so many are sitting on their hands. Or voting Reform.

Richard Tice’s insurgent right-wing party got its best by-election vote share yet. At almost 17 per cent and with 3,101 votes it came within touching distance of the Tories in second place.

Overnight results add up to a sonnet of desolation for the Conservative party

Again, Sunakites – if such creatures still exist – may seek to present it as a saving grace that Reform did not actually beat the Conservatives. But remember, this is Reform without its leading light: Nigel Farage does not actively campaign for the party at the moment and spent this round of elections soaking up some sunshine in America. He may be thousands of miles away, but any Tory strategists who think he isn’t following the unfolding horror show for the governing party and licking his lips in anticipation of bloodbaths yet to come are kidding themselves.

Election day dawned yesterday with news of the worst Conservative poll rating yet achieved on Sunak’s watch – just 18 per cent according to the latest YouGov poll. Reform was sitting just three points behind on 15 per cent. And Labour out of sight on 44 per cent. The Blackpool parliamentary by-election seems to confirm that, as well as being generally depressed, the Right vote is now split almost down the middle. There is every prospect that a full Farage comeback could see a crossover of support levels, at least for a while.

Keir Starmer was jubilant about the Blackpool result, as he was entitled to be. It was, however, notable that he branded the by-election the ‘most important’ contest taking place. Was this a sign that he feared his party would undershoot sky-high expectations for the many council and mayoral elections also taking place? That thought too is probably clutching at straws – though Sadiq Khan in London does seem to have alienated many more voters than he has enthused.

Will there now be a concerted campaign among some Tory MPs to unseat Sunak and install a fourth premier in a single term? Probably. Will it succeed? Probably not. There simply isn’t sufficient evidence that anyone else could do significantly better for it to be worth all the humiliation and mockery.

The only real crumb of comfort for the Conservatives today is that voters have not yet been asked one central question that will loom very large on general election day: how do you feel about Keir Starmer becoming prime minister tomorrow with a landslide majority? Different questions can generate different answers.

But overnight results add up to a sonnet of desolation for the Conservative party: ‘No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief, more pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.'<//>

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