Chris Mason: An evening of drama as Labour squeak West Midlands win

Defeated Conservative Andy Street listens to Labour's Richard Parker speaking
[PA Media]
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What a moment. What jeopardy.

Never let anyone tell you your vote doesn't count.

This is a region of around three million people.

And the gap between the Conservatives and Labour?

1,500 votes.

1,500 is a tiny majority in a parliamentary constituency of about 70,000 people.

It is miniscule in a region like the West Midlands.

Here in Birmingham's International Convention Centre, the tension was palpable.

The power, so often held by politicians, held by the people.

Democracy at its keenest; its sharpest.

The result was originally anticipated at 2:30pm. That time came and went. So too did 3:30pm.

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Then news of what are known as 'bundle checks' - where bundles of counted votes are checked again.

And then news of a full recount in Coventry.

Conservative and Labour sources reckoned there were around just 2,000 votes in it - across the entire region.

Just after 8pm, Labour claimed victory - but we awaited the official result in Sandwell.

And then it came.

A Labour victory, just.

The result shouldn't be that surprising, given Labour's performance elsewhere and its national poll leads.

But it matters because the Conservatives had talked up their prospects.

In truth, it's a reminder of Andy Street's personal brand that this race was as close as it was.

He is a proud Conservative, but wears his affiliation lightly, and he came within his whisker.

A mature, functioning democracy requires the consent of its losers.

To Mr Street's credit - whatever his political future might hold - within moments of his loss he was willing to talk to reporters like me, when the instinct of some might have been to run a mile.

He claimed his performance - outperforming his party's current popularity - proved the case for what he called "moderate" Conservatism.

It was a contribution to the roaring debate about the future of his party - before, but particularly after the general election, and the defeat many Tories anticipate.

Mr Street's defeat, by the thinnest of margins, exposes the widest of psychological wounds - in a blizzard of Conservative setbacks; another loss - rather than the alternative, a morale propping up win.

And yet, for Rishi Sunak, as things stand, reassurance from at least one quarter: his own MPs don't appear to want to turf him out.

And neither, categorically, does Mr Street, telling me it would be "complete madness to have another moment of introspection".

But, right now at least, the electorate appears to have other ideas - and he doesn't have long to change people's minds.

Little wonder the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was here within a beat of the result demanding an election immediately.

His team tell us he was near enough, in a pub in Nottingham watching the football - and he dashed here.

It is not remotely surprising he wants a general election now - all opposition leaders since the dawn of time have always publicly said the same.

And remember, Labour has a colossal mountain to climb to manage even the narrowest of election victories.

But the evidence is growing that the prospect of Sir Keir being our next prime minister is becoming ever more likely.