UK: Sunak’s Conservatives lose two safe seats in disastrous by-elections as split in right-wing vote proves fatal

FILE - British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to a TV reporter during his visit to Clacton-on-Sea, England, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)
By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

The governing Conservative party’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts demise continued on Thursday as it lost seemingly safe parliamentary seats to the Labour Party in the Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections.

Sir Keir Starmer’s opposition overturned huge Tory majorities of 24,664 in Mid Bedfordshire and 19,634 in Tamworth to inflict further damage on Rishi Sunak’s administration flagging in the polls.

It is the first time that Mid Bedfordshire has turned red since its creation in 1918, not even succumbing to the Labour Party during Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997, and the party’s first victory in Tamworth since that election.

In both by-elections, the Conservatives were frustrated by a split of right-leaning voters, enough of whom supported Nigel Farage’s old outfit, Reform U.K., to thwart the governing party’s candidate and ensure Labour won the seats by slim majorities.

“Twice in the same night has Reform U.K. ensured Tories lost their seat,” Reform UK party leader Richard Tice posted on X. “This despite huge squeeze pressure from Tories to voters saying do not vote for Reform.”

He reiterated his pledge on Friday to ensure that Reform U.K. candidates stand in all parliamentary seats contested by the Conservative Party in the next election, accusing the governing party of being “consocialists” who support “high tax, high regulations” and “mass immigration.”

“People do not want to reward 13 years of Tory broken promises and failure,” he added.

Conservative sources, including Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands, attributed the electoral defeats to apathy among its core voters, telling media that Tory voters had opted to stay at home rather than switch to Labour.

The low turnouts within the 30 percent for both elections appear to show there is some truth in this analysis, but that should do little to cheer those at Conservative Party headquarters as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks to be failing to win over the public in the same way that Boris Johnson did to win a landslide majority in 2019.

According to elections expert Sir John Curtice, the Conservatives are now facing “the serious prospect of losing the next general election heavily and even more heavily than in 1997.”

There is “no sugar coating how bad this is for the Conservatives,” added Savanta ComRes pollster Chris Hopkins.

A national poll published by Techne U.K. on Friday showed the dire situation facing the governing party ahead of the next general election, which can be held no later than Jan. 28, 2025.

It revealed a 19-point lead for Labour, which would enjoy 45 percent of the vote share, compared to the Conservative’s 26 percent and the Liberal Democrat’s 11 percent.

Both Reform U.K. and the Green Party are on 6 percent apiece.

While Richard Tice’s party isn’t anywhere near the 13 percent Nigel Farage’s UKIP achieved in the 2015 election, which severely thwarted David Cameron’s Conservative Party, Thursday’s by-elections proved it has enough support to be a major thorn in the side of the governing party and intends on being just that when voters next turn out for a national poll.

Share This Article