It is a stinging blow to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Conservative Party. The Tories just lost two important by-elections to Parliament, the seats of Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth. Seats that were considered safe for them but have now been won decisively by Labour. And what a win it was.
Labour made history in the largely rural seat of Mid Bedfordshire to win the constituency for the first time ever. This seat has only had a Tory MP since its inception in 1931. There was also a massive swing of 23.9% from the Tories to Labour in the Tamworth seat. Ahead of an expected general election next year, this has given a huge boost to Labour and dealt a massive blow to the Tories.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the victories as a game changer, saying his party was “redrawing the political map”. Some analysts have cautioned that turnout in the by elections was low — just 36% in Tamworth and 44% in Mid-Bedfordshire, but that does not take away from a gaining perception that the Tories are losing ground. Labour has won by-elections earlier this year as well from what were once “safe” Tory seats.
Conservatives are in big trouble
‘The Guardian’ newspaper spoke to a Tory MP who said that virtually every Conservative-held area was now up for grabs. “You can’t put any other gloss on it other than that it is bloody awful,” he said. Indeed, Labour’s wins in Tory bastions could reflect a tectonic shift in British politics.
The results appear to reflect the national mood in the UK at the moment where national polls show the Tories way behind Labour. Bottom line: the Conservatives are in big trouble.
The turnaround for Labour has been quite incredible. Less than 4 years ago, the party suffered its worst ever defeat in a general election in 80 years under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Today, the centre-left party seems poised to be back in power.
For the Conservatives, the love affair with the British public began to decline during the Covid lockdowns of 2021, with Boris Johnson (who was the Prime Minister) making headlines for holding parties while the rest of the country stayed locked up.
It did not help that an ugly succession battle followed Boris Johnson’s resignation which lead to the short but rather controversial stint of Liz Truss as Prime Minister. Her economic decisions had catastrophic outcomes for the financial markets in the UK.
Today, the UK is facing a huge economic slowdown, a cost of living crisis that has left ordinary people grappling with hard choices about heating and food along with a health care system that has completely broken down. Strikes by doctors, nurses, transport workers have only added to the country’s problems.
Minimising damage for the party
The reputation of the Tories has also suffered a blow for other reasons. Both the recent by elections were brought on by the resignations of two Tory MPs who landed in hot water for their conduct.
Chris Pincher had to quit his Tamworth seat after being found guilty of “inappropriate behaviour” with two men at a nightclub. Nadine Dorries, who was the MP from Mid Bedfordshire, resigned over how Boris Johnson was treated and because she did not get a peerage.
Rishi Sunak’s tenure, which has lasted just over a year so far, seemed to bring in some stability to the economy but that won’t be enough to bring him back as Prime Minister. Over the last few months, Sunak has tried every political trick to win favour with conservative voters including making U-turns on important climate change goals.
However, unlike the leadership crisis that the Tories grappled with after Boris Johnson, this time there is unlikely to be something similar playing out with Sunak. Simply because, there really is no alternative for the party at the moment.
More and more Tory MPs are now worried about losing their seats in the next election and have been saying that the best Rishi Sunak can do is to try and minimise the damage for the party. This is also a big moment for Keir Starmer, often projected as a political leader who does not have the mass appeal of someone like Tony Blair who lead Labour into a stunning victory in 1997.
Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who is decidedly left wing in his politics, Starmer is more of a centrist. Boring perhaps, but may be boring is what Britain needs.