Updated February 16th, 2024 at 11:45 IST

British By-elections: Labour Clinches Tory Strongholds, Delivering Double Blow to Rishi Sunak

These victories marked the second-largest swing from the Conservatives ever recorded.

Reported by: Sagar Kar
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer | Image:AP
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In a significant upset for the Conservative Party and a double blow to UK's PM Rishi Sunak, Labour secured victories in both the Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections, overturning substantial Conservative majorities.

Labour candidates Gen Kitchen and Damien Egan clinched wins in Wellingborough and Kingswood, respectively, marking the ninth and tenth by-election defeats suffered by the current Parliament under the Conservative government. Both seats were Tory strongholds. These victories marked the second-largest swing from the Conservatives ever recorded.

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Gen Kitchen secured Wellingborough with 45.8% of the vote, while Damien Egan won Kingswood with 44.9% of the vote, delivering resounding wins for the Labour Party.

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The results come at a challenging time for the Conservative Party, as it grapples with economic woes, including the UK's entry into recession at the end of 2023. Additionally, Reform UK, a right-wing party, made significant gains in the by-elections, securing more than 10% of the vote for the first time.

The Tory party - a electoral machine churning out defeat after defeat?

The defeats in Kingswood and Wellingborough bring the total number of by-election losses for the Conservative government to the highest since the 1960s, surpassing the eight defeats suffered by John Major's government in the lead-up to Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997. This is striking when one considers that fact that the Tory part, for a long time, was regarded as the most successful political party in the free world.  

Starmer's joy knows no bounds 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the victories as a sign of change and a renewed faith in the Labour Party's ability to deliver for working people. He emphasized Labour's commitment to addressing the failures of the Conservative government, particularly in the wake of Rishi Sunak's recession.

Sir Keir stated, "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."

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"The Tories 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. Those who gave us their trust in Kingswood and Wellingborough, and those considering doing so, can be safe in the knowledge that we will spend every day working to get Britain’s future back,” he added.

The Tory response - a tale of denial or hope?

However, not everyone interpreted the results as indicative of future trends. North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the by-election outcomes, noting that they often serve as opportunities for protest voting rather than consistent indicators of general election results. He said that Rishi Sunak's leadership was solid and the “by-elections don't change that”. 

Rees-Mogg remarked, "From the point of view of Kingswood, I think the Conservatives can be more pleased than they might have expected. I certainly thought this result would be worse." “Bear in mind a lot of the postal votes would have been back before Labour’s problem with antisemitism was in the public," he added. 

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Despite Rees-Mogg's tempered perspective, the Labour victories in Kingswood and Wellingborough underscore a growing momentum for change and present a significant challenge for the Conservative government, particularly as the nation approaches the upcoming general election.

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Published February 16th, 2024 at 11:45 IST