Politics

Rishi Sunak insists ‘our plan is working’ after double by-election defeat

Rishi Sunak has suffered a double-blow after losing two by-elections to Labour, overturning significant majorities in both.

Both Kingswood and Wellingborough turned from blue to red, meaning this government has seen the most by-election losses of any Conservative administration since the Second World War.

By-election results live: Labour secures double victory

The losses do not bode well as Downing Street continues its preparation for the general election due this year.

The results also provide some relief for Sir Keir Starmer after a challenging week for the Labour leader, having scaled back his party’s green investment plan and been embroiled in an antisemitism crisis.

The Wellingborough vote was called after Peter Bone was recalled by his constituents following claims of bullying and sexually inappropriate behaviour, which he denies.

Labour‘s Gen Kitchen overturned a majority of more than 18,000 to win the seat from the Tories, with a swing of 28.5% – the second highest of all time.

The Kingswood vote was held after Chris Skidmore resigned as an MP over Mr Sunak’s green policies. Labour’s Damien Egan overturned a majority of more than 11,000 there.

These two losses mark the ninth and 10th by-election defeats for the government since the 2019 general election.

Taking into account its win at the Hartlepool by-election in 2021, this government has now lost a net of nine seats, overshadowing the 1992 to 1997 administration of Sir John Major which lost eight.

The Labour administration of 1966 to 1970 did perform even worse, however; they lost 15 seats in four years.

Speaking after the results, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “These are fantastic results in Kingswood and Wellingborough that show people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed Labour Party to deliver it.

“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.”

Read more:
Kingswood by-election: Full results
Wellingborough by-election: Full results

Labour Party candidate Gen Kitchen celebrates with Labour MP for Chesterfield Toby Perkins after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election at the Kettering Leisure Village, Northamptonshire.
Image:
Gen Kitchen took the Wellingborough seat. Pic: PA

New Kingswood MP Damien Egan. Pic: PA
Image:
New Kingswood MP Damien Egan. Pic: PA

Conservative Party deputy chairman James Daly sought to talk down the influence of voters leaving his party to join Labour.

He said there was no “hard evidence” of “direct switchers” – adding the Lib Dem vote “has gone down substantially”.

Mr Daly also highlighted the local circumstances of the election in Wellingborough, with Mr Bone being recalled by his constituents.

Sky political analyst professor Michael Thrasher pointed out that, due to the secret ballots used in the UK, you cannot know if voters have swapped between parties “unless you stop people as they come out of the polling station and ask”.

Another success of the night went to Reform UK – the successor of the Brexit Party – which took home more than 10% of the votes in both seats.

It had not previously polled more than 10% at a by-election.

It finished third in both seats, winning 3,919 votes in Wellingborough and 2,578 in Kingswood, beating the Lib Dems.

Reform has been clear it is gunning for the Conservative Party, and has pledged to stand a candidate in every seat in Britain.

Next up for the parties is the Rochdale by-election in two weeks – although Labour has abandoned its candidate following an antisemitism row.

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