Double by-election defeat for Rishi Sunak as Labour overturn large Conservative majorities

Results saw Reform UK secure more than 10 per cent of the vote for the first time

Labour Party candidate Gen Kitchen celebrates with Labour MP for Chesterfield Toby Perkins after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election. PA
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Voters dealt UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a double blow at the Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections, where Labour Party candidates overturned two large Conservative majorities to claim victory.

The results delivered the government's ninth and 10th by-election defeats, more than in any single Parliament since the Second World War.

The results showed Reform UK secured more than 10 per cent of the vote for the first time, potentially adding to pressure on Mr Sunak from the right of his party.

They came only a day after it was announced the UK officially entered a recession in late 2023, compounding Mr Sunak’s woes.

Labour overturned majorities of 11,220 and 18,540, securing its second largest swing from the Conservatives to date, in results Labour leader Keir Starmer hailed as a sign the public wants change.

Gen Kitchen secured Wellingborough with 45.8 per cent of the vote, while Damien Egan won Kingswood with 44.9 per cent of the vote.

The results provided Labour with a boost after a U-turn on the party's pledge to spend £28 billion ($35.2 billion) on green projects and an anti-Semitism row that forced it to drop its candidate for another by-election in Rochdale in two weeks' time.

Mr Starmer said: "These are fantastic results in Kingswood and Wellingborough that show people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed Labour Party to deliver it.

"By winning in these Tory strongholds, we can confidently say that Labour is back in the service of working people and we will work tirelessly to deliver for them.

"The Tories have failed. Rishi's recession proves that. That's why we've seen so many former Conservative voters switching directly to this changed Labour Party.

"Those who gave us their trust in Kingswood and Wellingborough, and those considering doing so, can be safe in the knowledge that we will spend every day working to get Britain's future back."

Conservative deputy chairman James Daly said that, despite the results, there was "no love" for Mr Starmer and denied there was any evidence that voters switched directly from the Tories to Labour.

In Wellingborough, the Conservatives suffered one of their worst defeats since the Second World War, with the swing of 28.5 per cent representing the second largest from the Conservatives to Labour.

"The people of Wellingborough have spoken for Britain. This is a stunning victory for the Labour Party and must send a message from Northamptonshire to Downing Street," Ms Kitchen said.

In the Northamptonshire constituency Reform UK secured its best by-election result to date, with deputy leader Ben Habib winning 13 per cent in the constituency, which is heavily in favour of the UK's decision to leave the EU.

Mr Habib told Sky News the result was remarkable, adding: "People are absolutely fed up with the manner in which this country is being governed."

In Kingswood, where the result was announced shortly before 2am, Labour's Damien Egan defeated Conservative Sam Bromiley, securing 11,176 votes and a majority of 2,501.

In his victory speech, Mr Egan thanked the activists who helped him win and the people of Kingswood for putting their trust in him.

"It's a trust that I promise to repay, to show you that politics can be different and it can make a difference," he said.

"In Kingswood, as across the country, 14 years of Conservative government have sucked the hope out of our country with a feeling that no matter how hard you work, you just can't move forward.

"And with Rishi's recession we're left again paying more and getting less. It doesn't have to be this way – you know it, I know it, we all know it.

"When the Prime Minister finally finds the courage to give the people a say, we're going to need each and every one of you again to come out and vote and make sure your voices are heard."

Defeated Conservative candidates Sam Bromiley and Helen Harrison left their respective counts in Kingswood and Wellingborough without speaking to reporters.

The defeats mean the Conservatives have suffered more by-election losses in this Parliament than any previous government since the 1960s, passing the eight defeats experienced by John Major between 1992 and 1997.

But senior Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to play down the importance of the results as a bellwether for what will happen at the general election.

"By-elections are an opportunity for people not to turn out, to protest and at ensuing general elections they don't give a consistent guide to what happens," he said.

Mr Rees-Mogg acknowledged the Tories would need to learn from the results, saying: "Conservative Party votes are most likely to come from people who stay at home or who voted Reform.

"How do we win them back to the Tory family? People who share many views and values with us.

"By delivering things they believe in and that means lower taxation, taking more of the advantages of Brexit, with more of the removal of EU retained law, it means doing less on the green issue that is making people cold and poor, and helping revitalise our economy."

Updated: February 16, 2024, 9:00 AM