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UK Labour deals by-election blows to ruling Conservatives

February 16, 2024

Britain's main opposition Labour Party won two more parliamentary seats from PM Rishi Sunak's Conservative Party, boosting Labour's hopes of seizing power after close to 14 years out of government.

Labour Party candidate Damien Egan claps with his support lined up behind him
Labour Party candidate Damien Egan won the parliamentary seat for Kingswood in southwestern EnglandImage: Phil Noble/REUTERS

The UK's ruling Conservative Party on Friday shed two more parliamentary seats to Labour in by-elections, in a fresh setback for embattled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The right-wing Conservatives, in power since 2010, are expected to lose a general election that Sunak has said he will call in the second half of this year.

How the votes panned out

Center-left Labour overturned a large Conservative majority in the central English town of Wellingborough to win the parliamentary seat with 13,844 votes against 7,408. Renowned polling expert John Curtice described the result as the Conservatives' "worst ever by-election reverse."

In the southwestern English seat of Kingswood, Labour notched up 11,176 votes against 8,675 for the Conservative cadidate.

In a worrying development for Sunak's party, the hard-right Reform party garnered a significant number of votes in both seats. In Kingswood, the Conservatives would have scraped a narrow win if the Reform votes had gone to them.

The by-elections were to replace two lawmakers who quit suddenly; one in protest at Sunak's lack of commitment to green energy, the other ousted over alleged bullying and sexual misconduct.

Opposition Labour jubilant

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the results "show people want change" with the country having slipped into recession at the end of 2023.

"By winning in these Tory strongholds, we can confidently say that Labour is back in the service of working people and we will work tirelessly to deliver for them," Starmer said in a statement.

"The Tories [Conservatives] have failed. Rishi's recession proves that. That's why we've seen so many former Conservative voters switching directly to this changed Labour Party."

What did Sunak say?

The defeats mean the Conservatives have now lost 10 seats in by-elections since the last general election in 2019 — more than any administration since the 1960s. 

The party has recorded six of those defeats since Sunak took office in October 2022. 

Commenting on the outcome, Sunak said losing the two seats showed that his party has "work to do."

The Tories need to "show people that we are delivering on their priorities, and that's what I'm absolutely determined to do," Sunak told reporters.

While governing parties often lose such by-elections, the scale of the defeat in two seats that the Conservatives have held for years heaps more pressure on Sunak.

The 43-year-old former investment banker replaced Liz Truss, whose plan for unfunded tax cuts plunged the UK economy into a rapid downward spiral plan, forcing her to leave office after just seven weeks.

While Sunak restored some semblance of economic stability, he has so far failed to revive his party's popularity.

rc/dj (Reuters, AFP, AP)