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UK by-elections: Rishi Sunak suffers two election losses as British voters reject ailing

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The results amount to a comprehensive rejection of Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, which has seen its poll ratings nosedive in the months since Boris Johnson’s departure.


Britain’s beleaguered Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered a damaging political blow on Friday as voters rejected his party in two parliamentary elections it could ordinarily have expected to win.

The Conservative Party lost to the resurgent Labour Party in Selby and Ainsty, a region in the north of England where the Sunak’s party had enjoyed a commanding majority.

A second seat, Somerton and Frome, was won by the Liberal Democrats, a centrist party.

The Conservatives just managed to hold on to a third seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the constituency held by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson until his resignation from parliament last month, although Labour significantly grew its share of the vote.

The results will put Sunak’s leadership under pressure, and suggest his government is on course for an electoral defeat at the next general election, expected next year.

Sunak has struggled to reverse the Conservatives’ plummeting fortunes in the nine months he has held office; a series of scandals, a stuttering economy and a decline in Britain’s public services have left his party deeply unpopular.

But the results indicate that the opposition Labour Party, which under the leadership of Keir Starmer is on course to clinch power when Sunak calls a general election.

By law, a general election must take place by January 2025. Most observers think Sunak will call it in the fall of 2024, if not before, to avoid trying to persuade voters to cast their ballots in the middle of winter.

Thursday’s three by-elections provided the sternest mid-term test yet for Sunak, who took power after Liz Truss’s shambolic six-week premiership last fall.

The ruling Conservatives survived a scare in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where Labour was hoping to claim the seat Boris Johnson had held for eight years. Conservative Party’s candidate Steve Tuckwell won 45.16% of the vote there, according to Britain’s Press Association (PA).

Johnson quit in anger after a committee of fellow lawmakers found that he had lied to Parliament over “Partygate,” the scandal of lockdown-era parties in his government that tanked his popularity and contributed to his political downfall.

But in Selby, in the north of England, Labour overturned a huge deficit to win the seat with 46% of the votes, according to PA.

Both seats were viewed as the kind of regions that Labour needs to be targeting if it is to have a hope of claiming a parliamentary majority at the next election.

Both those votes were triggered after a committee of lawmakers found Johnson lied to Parliament, in a damning and unprecedented verdict against a former Prime Minister. Johnson was set to be suspended from Parliament for 90 days, but avoided that penalty by resigning instead.

Nigel Adams, the former Conservative lawmaker for Selby and a close ally of Johnson’s, quit hours later in an apparent move of solidarity.

Adding to the Conservatives’ woes was a thumping loss in Somerton and Frome, an affluent area in south-west England, to the Liberal Democrats which won nearly 55% of votes. The centrist party has been picking up former Conservative support in the so-called “Blue Wall,” a well-off portion of southern England that typically opposed Brexit.

The results amount to a significant rejection of Sunak’s Conservative Party, which has been in power for 13 years and has seen its opinion poll ratings nosedive towards the end of Johnson’s tenure, and since.

Sunak will now look to steady his leadership and fight off any growing murmurs of a challenge within his party.

But time is running out for him to reverse his government’s fortunes. A cost of living crisis, creaking public services, stubbornly high inflation and an endless list of Tory scandals have turned opinion firmly against his bloc, and intensified calls by buoyant opposition parties for an early general election.

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