THURSDAY’S two by-election results were terrible for the Tories. They suggest that all of the Tees Valley Tories, who helped sweep Boris Johnson to power in 2019, will struggle to hold their seats in the next general election which will probably be held in a year’s time.

They may cling to some hope. Turnout in both Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire was low – 36 per cent in one case – so it is clear Tory voters were staying at home.

Who can blame them? The two out-going Tory MPs had behaved disgracefully – Nadine Dorries resigning arrogantly when she didn’t get a seat in the House of Lords, and Chris Pincher clinging on until his wandering hands brought him down.

So Rishi Sunak needs to find a way of energising that core vote again. Will that mean a lurch to the right, to more populist pronouncements, especially as the Reform UK party picked up enough votes to worry the Conservatives?

However, the Tories’ big worry is that voters went straight for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, rather than protesting by electing Liberal Democrats. There may be no great enthusiasm for Starmer’s Labour but now no one is scared of the party in the way that voters were frightened off by Jeremy Corbyn’s leftward stance. The evidence of Thursday’s vote is that even Brexit-backing areas have forgiven the party for its past sins.

The only hope for the Conservatives is that a year is a long time in these volatile days with unseen events around every corner. No one saw the Middle East becoming such a big issue, and some Tories might be wondering how long Mr Starmer’s tight support for Israel can unite his party, particularly if Israeli actions in Gaza continue to be so bloody.

But those are only faint hopes – it looks increasingly as if the country has made up its mind.