British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservative Party has lost two safe parliamentary seats in a bellwether vote ahead of the next general election.
The centre-left Labour Party easily won the two central England seats up for grabs in by-elections held on Thursday, in an ominous sign for the Conservatives’ prospects in national elections expected next year.
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Labour’s Alistair Strathern and Sarah Edwards cruised to victory in the seats of Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth, overturning Tory majorities of nearly 25,000 and 20,000, respectively.
The governing Tories had held Mid Bedfordshire since 1931, and Tamworth since 1996.
George Osborne, a former Conservative chancellor, earlier warned that the loss of Mid-Bedfordshire would mean “Armageddon” for the centre-right party.
Labour leader Keir Starmer hailed the wins as proof of the public’s desire for new leadership.
“These are phenomenal results. Winning in these Tory strongholds shows that people overwhelmingly want change and they’re ready to put their faith in our changed Labour Party to deliver it,” Starmer said.
Labour has enjoyed a double-digit polling lead over the Conservatives for more than a year as voters fume over high inflation, a weak economy and long waiting times to use the state-run health service.
Facing flagging support in the polls, Sunak has announced a number of major policy shifts, including scrapping part of a costly high-speed rail link and watering down measures aimed at helping the UK achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The policy announcements have done little to improve the Tories’ standing in the polls, although Sunak’s personal approval has improved slightly.
During their more than 13 years in power, the Conservatives have led the UK through some of its most significant events in decades, including Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sunak, the fifth Tory leader since 2010, was not in the UK for the by-election results after travelling to Israel to express support for the country in its war with the armed Palestinian group Hamas.