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UK PM Rishi Sunak suffers two historic by-election defeats as Labour opposition surges

Labour party candidate Sarah Edwards, centre, after polls closed in the Tamworth by-election on October 20, 2023 in Tamworth, England.

Christopher Furlong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party suffered two historic by-election defeats on Thursday, with the main opposition Labour Party overturning huge majorities to win both seats.

The two constituencies, Mid Bedfordshire in southern England and Tamworth in the West Midlands, were among the safest Conservative parliamentary seats in the country before Thursday’s polls.

Labour overcame a 24,664 majority to win Mid Bedfordshire for the first time since the constituency’s inception in 1931 in a 20.5% swing. In the process, it pulled off the largest Conservative numerical majority overturned in the U.K. by the main opposition party since 1945.

In Tamworth, held by the Conservatives since 2010, the 23.9-point swing from Conservative to Labour represented the second-largest percentage overturn of its kind in the U.K. since 1945. The opposition party took on what was a 66% Conservative majority at the 2019 general election.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer told the program “BBC Breakfast” on Friday that his party was “redrawing the political map” and that the victories show that voters “overwhelmingly want change.”

Conservative Party Chairman Greg Hands told the same program that the results were “disappointing” and “a number of our voters are unhappy with the government,” adding that the Conservatives “have a job to do to win them back.”

The two seats became vacant after the resignations of two high-profile Conservative members of Parliament.

Tamworth was vacated by former Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher after he lost an appeal against a proposed suspension from the House of Commons over allegations that he drunkenly groped two men. Pincher denied the allegations and appealed the suspension, but the motion was upheld.

The handling of Pincher’s case by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson triggered the wave of high-level government resignations that ultimately led to Johnson’s ousting from 10 Downing Street last year.

The Mid Bedfordshire seat became available after former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries resigned once she was not awarded a lifetime seat in the House of Lords in Johnson’s resignation honors list.

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Dorries will be succeeded by Labour’s Alistair Strathern, who said the victory was “only possible because the Labour Party has changed.”

“Under new leadership, we’ve moved to where the country is, and to where Mid Bedfordshire is,” he added.

Tamworth’s new MP is Labour’s Sarah Edwards, who said the result signified that voters think it is “time for change,” and urged Sunak to call a general election.

The U.K. will have to hold a general election before the end of January 2025, but Sunak’s Conservatives currently trail Labour by at least 20 points in most national polling. The two results of Thursday will further deepen the ruling party’s fear of an electoral wipeout.

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