British PM Sunak Faces Crushing By-Elections Blow


Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives Suffer Crushing Defeats, Raising Doubts for General Election

Introduction

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s governing Conservatives faced significant setbacks as they suffered two major defeats in previously secure parliamentary seats on Friday. The losses have cast doubts on the party’s ability to secure victory in the upcoming general election, expected next year. This unprecedented double defeat indicates a dramatic decline in support for the Conservatives, who have emerged victorious in the last four national elections. Furthermore, this marks only the third instance since 1991 that a British Prime Minister has experienced two by-election losses on the same day.

Labour Party’s Astonishing Success

In an unexpected turn, the main opposition Labour Party emerged victorious in the Mid-Bedfordshire seat, located about 80 km north of London. Labour managed to overturn an almost 25,000 majority, marking the largest deficit the party has surmounted in a by-election since 1945. This triumph was followed by another stunner, as Labour snatched a former Conservative stronghold, Tamworth, a predominantly rural constituency in central England. The swing between the two parties in Tamworth was the second largest since World War Two.

“These are phenomenal results,” said Labour leader Keir Starmer in a statement. “Winning in these Tory strongholds shows that people overwhelmingly want change and they’re ready to put their faith in our changed Labour Party to deliver it.”

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Sunak’s Struggle to Close the Gap

Rishi Sunak, a 43-year-old former investment banker, has been attempting to rebrand himself as a bold reformer, shedding his image as a cautious technocrat. Previously credited with restoring Britain’s credibility after scandal and economic turmoil, Sunak’s recent efforts may be in vain. With voters disgruntled over high inflation, economic stagnation, and the long waiting times to access the state-run health service, Sunak’s time and opportunities to bridge the gap with Labour are running out. For over a year, Labour has enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls over the Conservative Party.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party acknowledged the difficulty of the results, stating that governments often encounter challenges in mid-term elections.

Sunak’s Attempt at Economic Revival

In a speech delivered at his party’s recent conference, Mr. Sunak aimed to present himself as a bold reformer, willing to make tough decisions in order to revive the economy. Among his controversial moves, Sunak announced plans to scrap a high-speed railway line that his predecessors had championed. He had also previously discussed watering down the country’s net-zero commitments. Despite his efforts, post-conference polls revealed that Sunak had failed to significantly narrow the deficit with the Labour Party, although his personal ratings experienced a slight improvement.

Labour Overturning Large Majorities

Labour had initially downplayed its chances of success in either seat, with a spokesperson for Keir Starmer suggesting that his party had the same likelihood of a “moonshot.” The by-elections in Mid-Bedfordshire and Tamworth came about due to the highly publicized resignations of politicians close to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Nadine Dorries, a former minister, stepped down from her Mid-Bedfordshire seat after failing to secure support for her appointment to the upper chamber of parliament. In Tamworth, another politician, Chris Pincher, resigned after being suspended from parliament for engaging in inappropriate behavior towards men at a club in London. The allegations against Pincher contributed to the downfall of Boris Johnson’s government.

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In a remarkable outcome, Labour secured a majority of over 1,100 votes in the Mid-Bedfordshire seat, overturning the Conservative Party’s previous majority of 24,664 in the 2019 general election. Since 1931, the area had consistently elected Conservative members of parliament. In Tamworth, Labour candidate Sarah Edwards triumphed with a majority of over 1,300 votes, toppling the Conservative Party’s majority of 19,634 votes in the 2019 general election.

Ballot papers are verified at Priory House in Chicksands, Bedfordshire, England, during the count for the Mid Bedfordshire by-election, on October 19, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP



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