In Brief

Tory win in Sleaford by-election leaves Labour red-faced

Conservative candidate Caroline Johnson fends off Ukip, but Labour crash to fourth place

The Conservatives saw off their Ukip rivals in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, in a night reassuring to Theresa May but embarrassing for Labour, which limped in at fourth place. 

Local doctor Caroline Johnson won the Lincolnshire seat with 17,570 votes, ahead of Ukip's Victoria Ayling, who followed with 4,426 votes. 

Labour managed a mere 3,363 votes, coming in behind the Lib Dems, who took 3,606. 

It was an "embarrassing" slip for the party, The Guardian says, falling from second place in last year's general election to fourth place now. In a "stark warning" for the party, their slice of the vote was down 7.02 per cent, while the Lib Dems' share rose by 5.33 per cent.

Labour's Jim Clarke, a refuse collector, "put in a valiant effort", but his campaign's arguments to protect the NHS failed to sway an electorate still obsessed over the outcome of Brexit, it adds. 

The Daily Mail also foretold disaster for the party, saying it had been "put to the sword again" and labelling the result "humiliating". It predicts much soul-searching among the Jeremy Corbyn camp and attributes Labour's stance on immigration as pushing voters towards Ukip. 

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said the result was evidence of his party gaining anti-Brexit support, following on from its surprise win against Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election last week.

"With Labour yet again nowhere and after losing their deposit in Richmond, the Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government," Farron said. 

Labour MP Vernon Coaker held a similar view, saying: "The challenge for us was because of Brexit. Everything was about Brexit. The messages about the A&E, the NHS, the messages about infrastructure - all of that got lost to an extent in the swirl around Brexit."

What's bad for Labour is good for the Conservatives, of course, and the BBC said the result would likely give "quiet comfort" to May after Ukip failed to deliver on its promises to send a message to the Prime Minister for - in their view - "backsliding on Brexit".

The seat was previously held for the Tories by Stephen Phillips, who resigned last month over "irreconcilable policy differences" with the Prime Minister.

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