UK: Conservatives lose two strongholds but avoid defeat

British Conservatives were dealt a blow on Friday with the loss of two MP seats in closely scrutinized by-elections a year ahead of legislative elections, but saved the day by retaining former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s constituency by a narrow margin.

Setting the tone for an election year, these polls confirmed the mistrust of the conservative majority, which was bogged down by scandals and a cost-of-living crisis after 13 years in power. He also highlighted the obstacles facing the Labor opposition, which dreams of Downing Street in 2024 but suffers from its London anti-pollution policy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, hoping to become the first head of government in more than 50 years to lose three seats in a single day, escaped humiliation thanks to his camp’s surprise victory in the London constituency where Labor was declared the winner.

In Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London, the Tories managed to retain their vacant seats by less than 500 votes after former prime minister Boris Johnson resigned from parliament in June.

Rishi Sunak, who was in Uxbridge on Friday morning with newly elected MP Steve Tuckwell, reacted by saying: “The Labor Party is behaving as if (the next election) is a deal. The people at Uxbridge have told them it is not.”

– “History” –

Labor has been hurt by the upcoming unpopular extension of a tax on polluting vehicles, decided by Labor mayor of London, which according to Steve Tuckwell is the “number one” problem in the constituency.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and newly elected Conservative MP Steve Tuckwell in Ruislip on July 21, 2023 (AFP – Justin Tallis)

But the Tories suffered two serious setbacks in other constituencies at stake: in Somerton and Frome (south-west), Lib-Dem candidate Sarah Dyke edged out the incumbent Conservative by more than 11,000 votes.

And in Selby and Ainstey (northern England), Labor candidates succeeded in overthrowing the Conservatives, who by then had a majority of over 20,000 votes. This was the largest majority reversal for the Labor Party at a by-election since World War II.

Labor leader Keir Starmer congratulated new MP Keir Mather, who at 25 became the youngest member of the House of Commons, and hailed “a historic result that shows people see Labor as a party that has changed”.

– test ballot –

With two comprehensive defeats, the test does not bode well for the Conservative government.

John Curtis, an influential political analyst and pollster, told the BBC: “The results of these by-elections show that the Conservatives are in deep electoral trouble, as opinion polls tell us.”

The entrance to a polling station in Ruislip on July 20, 2023 during a UK by-election (AFP - Justin Tallis)
The entrance to a polling station in Ruislip on July 20, 2023 during a UK by-election (AFP – Justin Tallis)

Over the three elections, the Conservative vote fell 21 percentage points in 2019 compared to previous elections, but turnout was also lower, at around 45% compared to an average of over 70% four years earlier.

Rishi Sunak himself recognized it: these elections were shaping up to be an “uphill battle” as inflation affects household purchasing power and fuels many social movements.

The 43-year-old prime minister’s confidence rating fell to an all-time low this week, with 65% of Britons having an unfavorable opinion of him, according to the YouGov institute.

To make matters worse, his popular Defense Minister Ben Wallace announced last week that he would not stand for re-election like nearly fifty other deputies.

He will also leave the government in the next possible reshuffle in September. This week the speculations of a change of government, which continued throughout the week, have come to an end.

For its part, Labor has a more than 10-point lead in the polls and is dreaming of taking back Downing Street after 13 years of Conservative power. They have already won six by-elections before March 2022, including two seats taken from the Tories.

However, Keir Starmer has incurred the wrath of some of his troops this week by opposing better social aid for large families. Not being very charismatic, he is assessed unfavorably by most of the British.

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