Jeremy Hunt (Picture: Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Flickr)Tories

The Tory crisis is so deep that chancellor Jeremy Hunt was forced this week to deny talk that he will not defend his seat at the next general election in order to avoid a ­humiliating defeat.

Local sources suggested Hunt feared a repeat of the “Michael Portillo” moment that became a symbol of the Labour landslide at the 1997 election.

Portillo, the defence ­secretary, lost the seat that he had won in 1992 with a 15,500 majority.

A spokesperson for the chancellor insisted, “Jeremy Hunt will stand as the Conservative Party candidate for Godalming and Ash at the next general election.”

That rumour might be denied. But the Tories can’t ignore their two by-election losses last week. Both Tamworth and ­Mid-Bedfordshire saw crushing defeats for Rishi Sunak. Labour overcame a 24,664 Tory majority in Mid Bedfordshire to win the seat for the first time. 

It was the largest ­numerical majority ever overturned in a by-election in history.Tamworth saw the ­second-biggest swing from the Conservatives to Labour at a by-election since 1945.

The results underline the government’s weakness and the potential for struggle to smash it. But there’s still little enthusiasm for Labour. In Tamworth, the Labour vote rose by less than 1,000 ­compared to 2019.

Labour won because the Tory vote collapsed by more than 20,000.  In Mid-Beds, the Labour vote was slightly down on the 2019 election. They won because the Conservative vote fell by over 26,000. 

More by-elections—and defeats—are coming. Next up is likely to be Blackpool South where Tory MP Scott Benton is awaiting sentencing by the standards committee over a lobbying scandal.

That could soon be ­followed by Wellingborough.  A parliamentary watchdog has concluded that its Tory MP Peter Bone “committed many varied acts of ­bullying and one act of sexual ­misconduct” against a staff member.

But just as the Tories are reeling, union leaders have paused—or called off—the national strikes that burst out in the summer of 2022 and have continued on and off since.

Consultants, junior and specialist doctors in England are to enter talks with the Tories.  The government says wage rises are not up for discussion—but it has not ruled out other “incentives”.

Instead of backing the negotiations with action, the BMA union has agreed not to call any further strikes for the present.

At the start of this week, union leaders had not notified any further rail strikes. This is despite a massive vote to continue action.

Around 20,000 RMT union members across 14 rail companies backed more strikes. Workers at each ­company achieved over a 50 percent turnout and overwhelming Yes votes for further strikes.

But there’s no sign of the escalation needed to beat the Tories.

Don’t put Starmer first

The strike pause doesn’t mean the movement is now fully over. Official figures released last week showed RPI inflation at 8.9 percent, so prices are still rising faster than wages.

A ballot of tens of thousands of university workers in the UCU union closes on 3 November and could see a return to strikes. 

And there is pressure for the action to be indefinite this time. Further education lecturers at 32 colleges have beaten the anti-union law ballot thresholds and could strike.

But this is all far too little. If there is to be a “second strike wave” to smash the Tories, workers will have to pressure their union leaders for more action, and more hard-hitting, escalated strikes.

And they must resist the argument that workers should now stop striking and instead must prioritise Labour entering Downing Street.

Resistance built now will be crucial whatever happens at the general election.

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