Labour opposition deals another historic blow to UK PM Rishi Sunak with by-election defeats

RUSHDEN, England – Feb. 13, 2024: Keir Starmer Campaigns With Labour’s By-election Candidate Gen Kitchen at AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

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LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservative Party suffered another double by-election defeat on Thursday, as the opposition Labour Party’s momentum shows no sign of slowing.

In Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Labour produced a 28.5% vote swing, according to House of Commons data — marking the party’s second-largest since 1945 — to win 45.9% of the vote. This compared to a 24.6% result for the Conservatives.

The by-election was called after veteran Conservative MP Peter Bone, who was re-elected with a majority of 18,000 in 2019, was removed from parliament due to allegations of serial bullying and sexually inappropriate behaviour. He denied the claims.

The Conservative candidate was Bone’s partner, Helen Harrison.

Labour will now hold the seat for the first time since 2001. Winning candidate Gen Kitchen said the result was a “stunning victory for the Labour Party and must send a message from Northamptonshire to Downing Street.”

KETTERING, England – Feb. 16, 2023: Conservative Party candidate Helen Harrison looks on as Labour Party candidate Gen Kitchen speaks after being declared the winner in the Wellingborough by-election at the count centre in Kettering Leisure Village on February 16, 2024 in Kettering, England.

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The other by-election was held in Kingswood, South Gloucestershire, where Labour overturned a Conservative majority of 11,220 to win with a 16.4% vote swing.

The seat was vacated when former Conservative MP Chris Skidmore resigned in January in protest over the Conservative Party’s plan to issue new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.

The constituency’s new Labour MP Damien Egan said that there was still “so much to do” and vowed to “work to give Kingswood its future back.”

The double defeat of Thursday was the latest in a string of unfavorable by-election results for the ruling party in what were previously considered safe seats.

In October, Labour overturned huge Conservative majorities to win concurrent by-elections in Mid Bedfordshire in southern England and Tamworth in the West Midlands. In June, the Conservatives lost the northern English seat of Selby and Ainsty to Labour, while the smaller Liberal Democrats took the southwestern constituency of Somerton and Frome.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer told the BBC on Friday that the message from the many by-elections over the past year was that “the country is crying out for change,” but that “there is more work to do.”

“I was very pleased last night to see that we were clearly getting Tory switchers, in other words people who hadn’t voted for the Labour Party before, coming out last night and voting for the Labour Party in a by-election.”

The Labour Party maintains a lead of more than 20 points over the Conservatives in all national polling, with a general election due no later than January 2025.

In the period since former Prime Minister Boris Johnson led the party to a substantial majority at the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives have now lost 10 by-elections in a single parliamentary term — more than any government since the 1960s.

Fresh data on Thursday showed the U.K. economy slipped into recession in the second half of 2023 and grew by just 0.1% across the whole year, with inflation continuing to squeeze household finances as the country seeks to emerge from a prolonged cost of living crisis.

“These results, like the results we saw in a series of by-elections in the second half of last year, point to a Labour Party that is very much on course for a very big election win in the general election,” Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, told CNBC on Friday.


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