- The opposition Labor Party overthrew two large majorities
- Defeats heaps of pressure on PM Sunak
- Opinion polls are seen as a test of popular support ahead of national elections
LONDON, Oct 20 (Reuters) – Britain’s Labor Party dealt a crushing blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party on Friday, winning two previously safe parliamentary seats, a victory its leader Keir Starmer said showed voters wanted change in the upcoming national election.
The double defeat showed a significant decline in support for the ruling Conservative Party, which has won the last four national elections, and indicates that Labor is on its way to winning power for the first time since 2010 in elections expected next year.
While the ruling party often loses so-called by-elections, the scale of the defeat in two parliamentary seats that the Conservatives have held for years increases the pressure on Sunak, who took power almost a year ago after the ruling party became embroiled in scandal and chaos under previous leaders.
Starmer, who has moved his Labor Party closer to the centre, said the two votes showed that “Labour is back serving the working class and redrawing the political map.”
“The victory in the Tory strongholds shows that people overwhelmingly want change and are willing to put their trust in a changed Labor Party to deliver it,” he said in a statement.
Labor won the seat of Midfordshire, an area about 50 miles (80 km) north of London, overcoming a majority of around 25,000, making it the largest deficit the party has overcome in a by-election since 1945.
Labor also swept away a large majority in Tamworth, another former Conservative stronghold, a largely rural constituency in central England, where the party has its second-highest Tory swing since World War II.
Many Conservatives had already resigned themselves to losing the two votes, blaming former lawmakers for handing victory to Labor because of the turbulent circumstances that followed their resignations. But many said Sunak still had time to try to restore Starmer’s party’s significant lead in the polls, but he would have to make a bolder offer to voters.
The Conservative Party has only won one of the last 12 by-elections in this Parliament, and half of the contests were caused by politicians resigning due to misconduct.
Greg Hands, chairman of the Conservative campaign, pointed to the low turnout, saying the Conservatives must find a way to get their traditional supporters to get out the vote.
“I didn’t see any enthusiasm for the Labor Party,” he said.
Sunak, a 43-year-old former investment banker, has tried to portray himself as a bold reformer, no longer the cautious technocrat who restored some of Britain’s credibility after scandal and chaos forced his two predecessors from office.
But with voters angry about high inflation, economic stagnation and long waiting periods for state-run health services, Sunak is running out of time and opportunity to close the gap with Labour, who has enjoyed a huge poll lead over the Conservatives. For more than a year.
In a speech at his party conference this month, Sunak sought to portray himself as a tough decision-maker focused on reviving the economy while meeting what he said were public demands to ease steps to reach climate change targets and “park the boats.” “To combat illegal immigration.
Local measures have so far failed to change opinion polls, but Sunak hopes he can establish himself as a statesman before the next election. He is now in the Middle East where he is encouraging countries to avoid further escalation in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
One Conservative lawmaker said Sunak and his finance minister Jeremy Hunt needed a “radical rethink” and urged the government to introduce tax cuts to win over voters.
The contests in Medfordshire and Tamworth were sparked by the resignation of prominent politicians close to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Former minister Nadine Dorris resigned due to her failure to obtain a role in the upper house of Parliament, while Chris Pincher resigned in Tamworth after he was suspended from working in Parliament for groping men in a London club.
Labor won the seat of Durres, which had been held by the Conservatives since 1931, by a majority of more than 1,100 votes. In Tamworth, Labor candidate Sarah Edwards won with a majority of more than 1,300 votes.
Peter Kyle, a senior Labor lawmaker, said his party had caused a “political earthquake”.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Elizabeth Piper) Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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