- The opposition Labor Party overturned two large majorities
- The failures expose the conservatives’ vulnerabilities
- Opinion polls are seen as a test of popular support ahead of national elections
LONDON, Oct 20 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservative Party suffered two heavy defeats in safe parliamentary seats on Friday, raising doubts about whether his party will win an expected general election next year.
The double defeat marked a dramatic drop in support for the Conservatives, who have won the last four national elections, and indicated that opposition Labor was on course to win back power for the first time since 2010.
Labor won the Mid-Bedfordshire constituency, about 50 miles (80 km) north of London, overcoming a majority of almost 25,000, the party’s biggest deficit in a by-election since 1945.
Enjoying the second-highest swing from the Conservatives since the Second World War, Labor overturned a large majority in another former Conservative stronghold of Tamworth, a largely rural constituency in central England.
“These are fantastic results that show Labor is back in the service of working people and reshaping the political map,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in a statement.
Sunak, a 43-year-old former investment banker, has recently sought to portray himself as a bold reformer, no longer the cautious technocrat who restored Britain’s credibility after scandals and economic turmoil forced his two predecessors from office.
With voters angered by high inflation, economic stagnation and long waits for state-run health care, Chung is running out of time and opportunity to close the gap on Labor, which has a double-digit poll lead over the Conservatives. More than a year.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party said the results were tough, but governments usually struggle to win by-elections.
In a speech at his party’s convention this month, Sunak tried to portray himself as a bold reformer who was willing to take tough decisions to revive the economy.
Sunak announced plans to scrap the high-speed rail line championed by his predecessors and last month announced plans to scale back Britain’s plans to tackle climate change.
After the conference, Sunak failed to significantly reduce the deficit with Labor, although his personal ratings improved somewhat.
Sunak is currently in the Middle East, where he is encouraging countries to avoid further escalation in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
This week Starmer’s spokesman downplayed the chances of Labor winning any seats, with his party likely to have a “moonshot”.
Politicians close to former prime minister Boris Johnson have resigned, leading to contests in Mid-Bedfordshire and Tamworth.
Former minister Nadine Dorries has quit her Mid-Bedfordshire seat after failing to win support for nomination to the upper house of parliament.
The rivalry in Tamworth was sparked after another politician, Chris Fincher, was suspended from parliament for groping at a London club. The allegations against him contributed to the downfall of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
Labor won the Mid-Bedfordshire constituency by more than 1,100, beating the Conservative majority of 24,664 in the last 2019 general election.
The region had previously elected a Conservative Member of Parliament at every election since 1931.
In Tamworth, Labor candidate Sarah Edwards won by a majority of more than 1,300, beating the Conservative majority of 19,634 in the 2019 general election.
Senior Labor member Peter Kyle said his party had delivered a “political earthquake”.
The Conservatives have won just one of the last 12 by-elections in this parliament, half of which were due to politicians resigning for misconduct.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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