Britain’s Labour Party deals double blow to PM Sunak’s Conservatives

The Labour Party in Britain delivered a devastating blow to the Conservatives led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party on Friday, taking the lead in voting for two new parliamentarians, indicating that the opposition party was likely to win a national election later this year.

The ruling party’s declining fortunes were highlighted by the twin setback, which won’t do much to appease Sunak’s detractors who want him to go off course because of concern that the Conservatives may lose the national election.

Although he has portrayed himself at different times in the last year as a fearless reformer, a steady technocrat, and now as someone who needs more time “to stick to the plan” because, he claims, the plan is working, the 43-year-old former investment banker has found it difficult to turn around his party’s fortunes.

But with the Labour Party ahead in the polls, Sunak might feel the need to bend to the demands of some in his party to offer an increasingly disaffected electorate a more right-wing conservative agenda before the election.

Labour was jubilant.

“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,” Labour leader Keir 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.”

Labour overturned a hefty Conservative majority in the central English town of Wellingborough to win the parliamentary seat with 13,844 votes against 7,408 in what polling expert John Curtice described as the governing party’s “worst ever by-election reverse.”

In another threat to Sunak’s party, the candidate for the right-wing Reform Party won 3,919 votes, a sign, Curtice said, it had “now entered the electoral battle in a serious way … that potentially adds to the Conservatives’ difficulties”.

Addressing that threat, Conservative Party Chairman Richard Holden told Times Radio a vote for Reform was a vote for Labour.

“I don’t think what we’re seeing is that big switch to Labour … but I think you are seeing Conservative voters, not at this stage willing to come out at the moment and support the government.”

In Kingswood, southwestern England, Labour won with 11,176 votes against 8,675 for the Conservative candidate. Reform received 2,578 votes

It appeared that the Conservatives had all but written off the two by-elections. While Labour sent many of its lawmakers and activists to campaign in both places, the Conservatives had a muted presence.

The party has only won four out of 21 by-elections since the last national election in 2019.

While so-called by-elections are often lost by the governing party, the scale of the defeat in two parliamentary seats the Conservatives have held for years piles pressure on Sunak, who became prime minister just over a year ago.

The challenge from the Reform Party adds a new dimension. Senior Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said at least in Kingswood, if Reform supporters had voted for the governing party as part of the “Conservative family”, the Conservatives would have held the parliamentary seat.

Few Conservatives believed they had any chance of winning in either place – the contest in Wellingborough was triggered after the former member of parliament was forced out over a bullying and harassment scandal, while in Kingswood, former minister Chris Skidmore resigned over Sunak’s climate change policies.

But some had hoped Labour might have been damaged this week when Starmer did not move immediately to censure a Labour candidate who was recorded espousing conspiracy theories about Israel and for scrapping a green investment target.

But with turnout low, voters punished the governing party and Sunak, who is struggling to meet his election promises, including a vow to grow the economy. Data on Thursday showed it had slipped into recession in the second half of 2023.

With many voters angry over a punishing cost-of-living crisis, long waiting times to use the state-run health service and strikes on public transport, Sunak is running out of time to close the gap with Labour.

Polling expert Curtice said Labour’s Starmer still looks “on course to be our next prime minister”.

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Sydney Okafor

I am so passionate about this my profession as a broadcast journalist and voiceover artists and presently a reporter at TV360 Nigeria

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