This article first appeared on Telegraph Online.

Government loses two by-elections. Ordinarily that barely rates a headline. These, however, are not ordinary times. Poll after poll shows Labour heading for victory in the general election, and the results from Wellingborough and Kingswood do nothing to alter my view that the game is up for the Conservatives. In a week when Labour had their backs against the wall over policy U turns and antisemitism, they still romped to victory in both seats.

Although eminently predictable results, there are some lessons to be learned. Let’s start with the Conservatives. Their lesson is twofold. In both these seats the trend of the Conservative vote reducing by a third has continued. It has happened in all the recent by-elections. It doesn’t seem as though the Tory vote has defected much to Labour, but instead Tory voters have decided to sit on their bottoms and stay at home. Extraordinarily, in two seats which the Tories held with large majorities they barely put in any campaigning effort. They will justify it by pointing out the fact that the Kingswood seat disappears at the general election and Wellingborough is subject to major boundary changes. Unusually no MPs were deputed to campaign, let along party activists encouraged to travel there to help the Tory campaign. It may be that CCHQ decided it would be throwing good money after bad, but it all added to the sense that the Tories have, well, given up already and are accepting their fate. It’s shameful, to be honest. What’s the point of having a campaigning department when it doesn’t even bother to campaign?

These were the first by-elections where Reform UK made an impact leapfrogging the LibDems into a third place finish in both seats. Over the last few months Reform has started to regularly poll in double figures, something which will worry Tory strategists, even in their state of despairing stasis. They are starting to give mardy Tories an alternative home. However, if the Tories think that tacking to the right on immigration and promising to withdraw from the ECHR will appease their erstwhile supporters, history shows that it will not work. For every vote you keep, you lose another one from the other wing of the party. Reform now need to replace Richard Tice with Nigel Farage and they could really be a thorn in the Tory side. In many ways the success or otherwise of Reform holds the key to the size of the Labour majority.

On the face of it the night was a disaster for the LibDems, with two lost deposits. However, look deeper and one has to ask why their vote plummeted by 50% in Kingswood and 40% in Wellingborough. Simple. LibDem voters are more likely to indulge in anti-Tory tactical voting than any other party’s supporters. They are far less tribal and far more slutty in their voting predilections. Their challenge is to persuade Labour voters to be equally as tarty in Tory held seats in the south.

These are not midterm blues by elections, as Rishi Sunak has suggested. They signal the end of Tory days.