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It’s an unwritten rule of politics that every electoral action can have an opposite – if not quite equal – reaction.

The question being asked by many Tories this morning will be whether the party’s recent relentless focus on winning new supporters in traditionally Labour-held areas in the north is starting to cost them in their strongholds in the south.

As ever, the reality is more complex.

Chesham and Amersham presented a potent mix of local and national issues that the Lib Dems were able to capitalise on.

The HS2 rail line runs through the constituency and proposed planning changes are a big concern here too.

And as the losing Tory candidate has said, the Lib Dems threw the kitchen sink, the microwave and everything else at this seat.

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Tories lose seat for first time in 47 years

Tactical voting may have also been at play with Labour voters switching to the Lib Dems to ensure a government defeat.

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But all that said, this trend – of traditional Tory regions in the south being eaten away by the opposition parties – was visible in May’s local election results.

David Cameron’s old Oxfordshire constituency of Whitney and the bastion of moneyed Home Counties Toryism Chipping Norton both got Labour councillors in that vote.

Meanwhile further south in Sussex, the conservative leader of Worthing Borough Council explicitly blamed the focus on levelling up in the north and prevalence of planned housing developments in the south for a loss of seats in his region.

The Lib Dems are echoing that this morning, saying that voters in places like Chesham and Amersham are fed up of being taken for granted.

Demographic change as young families move from inner London, along with chunky support for remaining in the EU in 2016 may also have played a part.

The messaging from Tory sources this morning is that this is a predictable mid-term protest vote against a party that has been in power for ten years and the seat can be retaken at a general election.

That may be right – but remember, that logic wasn’t borne out in the Hartlepool by-election where the Tories took the seat in May.

It also comes at a time when the government is polling well, in the midst of a successful vaccine rollout.

All of that means this is a more surprising result than Hartlepool.

But just because this brick has turned yellow, doesn’t mean the whole blue wall is guaranteed to come falling down.

For a start, there are genuine questions about whether there is a big enough crop of seats the Tories would realistically lose in a general election to counter their wins in the north.

What’s more, while in the north the Tories are now single-handedly taking votes from Labour, in the south the spoils of disillusioned conservative voters are more frequently being shared between a number of opposition parties.

For Labour, this is bad news.

This by-election saw the opposition vote collapse to just over 600 votes.

May’s bumper round of polling also saw good gains for the Green Party, as well as the Lib Dems.

Expect questions for Sir Keir Starmer today about why Labour is failing to win in places like Chesham and Amersham when the Lib Dems are.

The practical question for the next general election may be whether anti-Tory electoral pacts are the only way to get close to pushing Boris Johnson out of power.

Countless prime ministers have learnt the lesson of taking voters for granted the hard way.

It’s an irony not lost on Tories that the same sense of disillusionment they are trading off in the north now appears to be costing them votes in the south.

This is a stunning result for the Lib Dems and while it’s too soon to talk about the southern blue wall crumbling, it’s certainly wobbling.

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Yvette Cooper promoted and Lisa Nandy to shadow Gove on levelling up brief in Labour reshuffle

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Yvette Cooper is elevated to shadow home secretary while Lisa Nandy will move from shadow foreign secretary to the levelling up brief as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer reshuffles his cabinet.

Ms Cooper, who held the home affairs brief previously from 2011 to 2015 under former Labour leader Ed Miliband, will depart her current role as chair of the influential Commons home affairs select committee in returning to the shadow cabinet.

Ms Nandy will now shadow Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, while David Lammy has been promoted into her former shadow foreign secretary role from the justice brief.

New shadow cabinet roles revealed in Starmer’s surprise Labour shake-up – live updates

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy speaks during Britain's Labour Party annual conference, in Brighton, Britain
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Lisa Nandy is moving from shadow foreign secretary to shadow levelling up secretary against Michael Gove, Sky News understands

Others who have been boosted to more prominent positions in Sir Keir’s top team include Wes Streeting who moves to shadow health secretary and Bridget Phillipson who will transfer from shadow chief secretary to the Treasury to shadow education secretary.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Ashworth, who has had the health brief through the pandemic, moves to shadow work and pensions secretary and said he was “excited” for the new role.

Former holder of the education brief Kate Green has been removed from the shadow cabinet alongside the previous shadow Wales secretary Nia Griffith and former environment secretary Luke Pollard.

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Earlier on Monday, former shadow minister for young people and democracy Cat Smith and former shadow attorney general Lord Falconer said announced that they were also stepping down from Labour’s frontbench.

Sir Keir’s top team now includes:

• Angela Rayner as deputy leader, shadow first secretary of state, shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work

• Rachel Reeves as shadow chancellor

• David Lammy as shadow foreign secretary

• Yvette Cooper as shadow home secretary

• Wes Streeting as shadow health secretary

• Lisa Nandy as shadow levelling up, housing, communities and local government secretary

• Jonathan Reynolds as shadow business secretary

• Ed Miliband as shadow climate change and net zero secretary

• John Healey as shadow defence secretary

• Lucy Powell as shadow digital, culture, media and sport secretary

• Bridget Phillipson as shadow education secretary

• Jim McMahon as shadow environment secretary

• Nick Thomas-Symonds as shadow international trade secretary

• Steve Reed as shadow justice secretary

• Louise Haigh as shadow transport secretary

• Jenny Chapman as shadow cabinet office minister

• Louise Haigh as shadow transport secretary

• Anneliese Dodds as women and equalities secretary and Labour Party chair

• Jonathan Ashworth as shadow work and pensions secretary

• Emily Thornberry as shadow attorney general

• Jo Stevens as shadow Wales secretary

• Ian Murray as shadow Scotland secretary

• Peter Kyle as shadow Northern Ireland secretary

• Thangam Debbonaire as shadow Commons leader

• Dr Rosena Allin-Khan as shadow mental health minister

• Preet Gill as shadow international development minister

• Pat McFadden as chief secretary to the Treasury

• Alan Campbell as shadow chief whip

• Angela Smith as shadow leader of the House of Lords

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the Mailbox in Birmingham during the CBI annual conference
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is carrying out a reshuffle for the first time in six months

In a statement, Sir Keir said: “With this reshuffle, we are a smaller, more focused shadow cabinet that mirrors the shape of the government we are shadowing.

“We must hold the Conservative government to account on behalf of the public and demonstrate that we are the right choice to form the next government.”

The Labour leader said he is “delighted” to have appointed Ms Nandy to the foreign affairs brief, adding that “there will be nobody better than Lisa to lead this work”.

Ed Miliband says the government is not taking COP26 seriously enough
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Ed Miliband will take on the climate brief

Meanwhile, Mr Miliband “will lead in the shadow cabinet to develop Labour’s extensive plans for net zero in a first term Labour government, and hold the government to account for its failure to take action”, Sir Keir said.

The reshuffle comes six months after Sir Keir‘s last refresh of his shadow cabinet, in the wake of a mixed night for Labour in May’s elections across the UK.

Posting on social media, Mr Lammy said he was “honoured” to be appointed shadow foreign secretary and praised his predecessor Ms Nandy for “holding the Tories’ feet to the fire”.

“Honoured to be appointed shadow secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth & development affairs. At a time when Britain is recasting itself on the world stage, I look forward to setting out Labour’s vision for a values-led foreign policy based on cooperation & internationalism,” Mr Lammy said.

Britain's Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy speaks during Britain's Labour Party annual conference, in Brighton, Britain, September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
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David Lammy has been promoted to the foreign affairs brief

Newly-appointed shadow health secretary Mr Streeting tweeted: “Delighted to have been appointed as shadow health and social care secretary.

“This year the NHS saved my life and staff across health and social care are getting us through the worst pandemic in living memory. Labour created the NHS. We’ll make it fit for the future.”

Earlier this year, Mr Streeting was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had a kidney removed.

Some have suggested the shake-up came about quite abruptly.

Speaking earlier on Monday morning at an event in Westminster amid swirling reshuffle rumours, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “I don’t know the details of the reshuffle or the timing of it, I’ve been here concentrating on my role now.

Wes Streeting
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Wes Streeting will take over as shadow health secretary

“But six months ago I said again we need some consistency in how we’re approaching things as an opposition. I want us to see us as a government in waiting, I want us to do that job.”

Sky’s political correspondent Kate McCann reported that Ms Rayner did get a call from Sir Keir on Monday morning to say she would keep her role, but was not given any detail or consulted about the reshuffle itself.

Posting on social media, Mr Lammy said he was “honoured” to be appointed shadow foreign secretary and praised his predecessor Ms Nandy for “holding the Tories’ feet to the fire”.

“Honoured to be appointed shadow secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth & development affairs. At a time when Britain is recasting itself on the world stage, I look forward to setting out Labour’s vision for a values-led foreign policy based on cooperation & internationalism,” Mr Lammy said.

Cat Smith
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Cat Smith was the first person to depart the shadow cabinet on Monday

While announcing her departure from Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet, Ms Smith tweeted out a copy of a letter she had sent to the Labour leader, warning Sir Keir of the “damage” being done by Jeremy Corbyn remaining suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Sir Keir’s previous reshuffle provoked controversy within the party when he sacked Ms Rayner as Labour Party chair.

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Have the last few wobbly weeks seen a turning point for Johnson as PM?

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Have the last few weeks seen a turning point in Boris Johnson’s premiership? 

Dozens of Tories have refused to follow the prime minister’s orders in the voting lobbies on issues as diverse as sleaze and social care.

Meanwhile a handful of Tory MPs have gone public with demands for change, with many more complaining in Westminster’s cafes and bars. At times, it has felt like Mr Johnson was losing his political agility.

“There are too many issues at the moment in which the government is shooting itself in the foot with issues and problems which as I say colleagues are warning and warning and warning about and that are visible from Venus, Mars even maybe visible from Pluto,” northern Tory and ex minister Andrew Percy told Sky News.

“And that has got to stop because we owe the people of this country better than that.”

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Is PM losing Tory support?

Mr Percy hasn’t always been a rebel, though he accepts that description now.

Not that long ago he occupied the high profile portfolio of Northern Powerhouse minister until 2017 and was an early backer of Mr Johnson’s leadership in the summer of 2019.

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Nor can he just be dismissed as one of a small number of irreconcilables.

Almost one in seven Tory MPs – 52 of them – have rebelled more often than Mr Percy, according to the Public Whip website which provides a crude tally of how many times he and his colleagues have voted against their party.

Yet he is one of the few prepared to go on the record in a television interview quite so expansively with their concerns, and as he sits in his office next to a full size Yorkshire flag, he worries, the government’s political antennae is wonky.

“Those are questions that people around the prime minister and then the senior levels of government have to ask themselves.

“They have to look and see if the setup of this government is broad enough, if it is drawn wide enough from the party if it is reflective of our new voter base, if it’s reflective even of our new base on the back benches.”

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PM asked ‘is everything okay?’ after speech

Last week, he voted like many others against the government’s social care plans because they will mean the less well off having to pay more than affluent voters before the state steps in and picks up care home bills.

Tory rebels cut the government majority from 80 to 26, setting off alarm bells across the party.

Mr Percy blasts Rishi Sunak’s department, saying their focus on keeping control of public spending is getting in the way of the party meeting its promises.

He said: “The Treasury has to be cognizant of what we promised people, what we told people, and I understand absolutely, you know, public spending is at record levels, you know, the amount of debt we are facing following COVID and all the rest of it is really, really very challenging.

“And these same conversations are happening in governments all across the world. I totally appreciate the challenge, but commitments were made, be that on rail, they were made on social care, they were put into our manifesto, people voted for us on the basis of those and therefore, you know, we need to ensure that we are making good on those promises.”

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PM loses place in speech, uses Peppa Pig joke

Beneath the surface this argument, between Tories who want to spend whatever it takes to deliver for voters, and those who think strong public finances are the bedrock of the Tory claim to competence.

Not all promises cost money, however, and Tories across the party are worried one of their biggest weaknesses stems from making offers that never materialise.

Ex-minister Tim Loughton, now a Tory on the home affairs select committee, points the finger firmly at France for the migrant crisis.

However he worries that the government has talked up its ability to find a quick fix too often when it is unable to find an easy solution.

Tim Loughton (front) points the finger firmly at France for the migrant crisis
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Tim Loughton (front) points the finger firmly at France for the migrant crisis

“There is a genuine concern that the government has talked tough,” he told me. “The government genuinely wants this trade to end, as we all do, but we haven’t been able to achieve that on our own because most of the cards are in the hands of French.

“And perhaps it wasn’t wise to overpromise when we couldn’t rely on the partnership we need to solve this.”

Soon there will be two opportunities for voters to pass their verdict, with two traditionally safe Tory seats heading to the polls for a byelection.

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PM’s letter stirs controversy

This Thursday will see the vote in Bexley and Old Sidcup where the south London voters will choose a successor to popular minister James Brokenshire, who died of cancer in October.

Two weeks later, voters in North Shropshire will elect a successor to disgraced ex-minister Owen Paterson. Few expect an upset in Bexley, although some Liberal Democrats say they are putting in a concerted effort in Shropshire.

On the streets of Bexley, however, there was little sign of danger for Mr Johnson, where at times voters appeared more forgiving than his own MPs.

Tory voters there talk of Mr Johnson going “off the boil” and “fumbling” and doing things that mean they “lack confidence”.

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PM ‘deeply saddened’ by migrant deaths in Channel

Asked if that means they will take their vote elsewhere, most said not, often arguing he had been dealt an unprecedented bad hand.

This could be dismissed as an outlier result in a safe Tory seat, but the national opinion polls suggest that even after the most recent few weeks, Mr Johnson’s party enjoys an advantage.

The most recent YouGov survey from last week puts the Tories on 36% and Labour on 35%.

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‘It’s corrupt – there’s no other word for it’

Older voters in the 65 and above category are twice as likely to vote Tory than Labour, an advantage Labour has not yet begun to directly tackle.

Meanwhile there is little sign Keir Starmer’s Labour is winning over Tory votes directly. Amongst those who voted Tory in 2019, 6% would now choose to vote for Labour but twice as many, 11%, would go for the little known Brexit Party successor, Reform UK.

The last three weeks have seen doubts about Mr Johnson in Westminster unthinkable even during Tory conference in early October, as well as calls for him to shake up his team and signs of fissures in government.

It is not yet clear those doubts in Westminster have filtered through and changed the voting habits in the country.

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Dutch and UK govts agree migrants need to be returned to first country ahead of meeting UK excluded from

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The government is hoping the French will work with the UK on halting migrant crossings despite being disinvited from talks.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid defended Boris Johnson after the prime minister tweeted out a letter he sent to French President Emmanuel Macron, which angered Paris and got Home Secretary Priti Patel disinvited from a meeting on the crossings today.

He told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “We can’t just do it on our own, we do need the co-operation of the French and again, you asked me about the prime minister’s letter and I think what the prime minister has set out, those are exactly the kind of things that we need to do and I hope that the French will take that and work with us.”

The meeting, organised after 27 people died trying to cross the Channel on Wednesday, will go ahead without Ms Patel today. Interior ministers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the European Commission will attend.

Mr Javid called France “our friend” and said he thinks the five points Mr Johnson set out to tackle the issue of people crossing the Channel in small boats “are all the right issues”.

“We should be working together on them,” he added.

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One of the points called for asylum seekers arriving in the UK in boats to be returned to France as the government says they should claim asylum in the first safe country they get to.

This is also said to have angered the French government.

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PM ‘not serious’ over channel crossings

Mr Javid said: “Whatever we can do, we still need to have co-operation with our French friends.

“I think reaching out to them and suggesting, making proactive suggestions, whether it is joint patrolling, whether it is a terms agreement, I think these are all the right things to do.”

Labour criticised both the UK and French governments, with shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy saying they are “engaging in a blame game while children drown off our coastline”.

She told Phillips: “It’s just simply unconscionable and any responsible government on either side of the Channel would set aside those differences and work together to deal with what is a collective shared problem that will only be solved together.”

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Ms Nandy added that legitimate routes to the UK to help people fleeing war and persecution need to be developed.

“These routes simply don’t exist, and they won’t exist as long as the government continues to engage in a blame game with others and doesn’t do the hard yards of sitting down around the table and agreeing how we’re going to tackle this together,” she said.

It has been a tough month for the prime minister, who has faced sleaze accusations over now-ex Conservative MP Owen Paterson’s lobbying breaches, saw his majority slashed over social care changes, praised Peppa Pig World in a speech, had a diplomatic argument with France over migrant crossings and now a new variant.

Backbench MPs have heavily criticised the prime minister on all accounts but asked whether Mr Johnson could still win an election, Mr Javid said: “Yes, absolutely.

“This is a government that delivers on its promises and deals with the challenges they face.”

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