The opposition Labour Party overturned huge Conservative majorities to win two parliamentary seats, boosting leader Keir Starmer’s hopes of ousting Rishi Sunak as prime minister in a UK vote expected next year.
(Bloomberg) — The opposition Labour Party overturned huge Conservative majorities to win two parliamentary seats, boosting leader Keir Starmer’s hopes of ousting Rishi Sunak as prime minister in a UK vote expected next year.
Alistair Strathern won the special election for Mid Bedfordshire — a mostly rural district north of London — with 13,872 votes. Conservative Festus Akinbusoye got 12,680 votes and Liberal Democrat Emma Holland-Lindsay 9,420.
The Tories were defending a majority of almost 25,000 in the seat, making it the biggest deficit Labour has overcome in a by-election since 1945. It will be viewed as a major step for Labour as it sets its sights on winning back power in the UK for the first time since 2010.
Earlier, Sarah Edwards was elected the Member of Parliament for Tamworth — a town northeast of Birmingham, the UK’s second-biggest city — winning 11,719 votes, ahead of Conservative Andrew Cooper on 10,403 votes.
“These are phenomenal results that show Labour is back in the service of working people and redrawing the political map,” Starmer said. “Winning in these Tory strongholds shows that people overwhelmingly want change and they’re ready to put their faith in our changed Labour Party to deliver it.”
Labour had played down its chances in both seats, given the big Conservative majorities the last time they were contested in 2019.
In Tamworth, Starmer’s party won a 23.9-point swing from the Tories — just beating the 23.7-point swing it recorded when winning Selby and Ainsty in a by-election in July. In Mid Bedfordshire — which had been Conservative since 1931 — it secured a 20.5-point swing from the Conservatives.
Polling expert John Curtice, a politics professor at Strathclyde University, said the last time there were three by-elections with swings of 20% or more to the Labour Party was in the run-up to the 1997 general election won by Tony Blair.
“This isn’t destiny but it is a pointer,” Curtice said on BBC television. “Unless the Conservatives can fairly dramatically and radically turn things around then they are staring defeat in the face in 12 months’ time.”
Sunak’s team will likely try to lessen the significance of the results, insisting that mid-term elections are often difficult for governing parties. The Tories trail Labour by about 20 percentage points in national polls, and had hoped to hold onto at least one of the two seats in order to halt Starmer’s momentum.
The Mid Bedfordshire vote was triggered by the resignation of Nadine Dorries, a close ally of Boris Johnson. She faced fierce criticism over her attendance record in Parliament in recent months, and issued a rebuke of Sunak’s leadership when she quit at the end of August.
There was also a Johnson connection to the Tamworth by-election, which was called after former MP Chris Pincher stood down following allegations last year that he had groped two men. Johnson’s efforts to defend Pincher, who was then a government minister, triggered a backlash that was a major part of the former premier’s downfall.
(Updates with context and quotes from eighth paragraph.)
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