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Conservatives suffer double blow in UK by-elections

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has suffered a double blow after the Conservatives lost both the Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections.

The Labour Party overturned majorities of 11,220 and 18,540, delivering the government’s ninth and tenth by-election defeats of the current parliament and securing its second largest swing from the Conservatives ever.

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

The results provided Labour with a boost after a U-turn on the party’s pledge to spend £28 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.

The twin defeat piles more pressure on Mr Sunak following the news that the UK entered a recession at the end of 2023, while Reform UK scored its best by-election results after targeting disgruntled voters on the right, securing more than 10% of the vote for the first time in a by-election.

Reform deputy leader Ben Habib won 13% of the vote in Wellingborough, while Rupert Lowe won 10% in Kingswood.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer hailed the victories, saying: “These are fantastic results in Kingswood and Wellingborough that show people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed UK Labour Party to deliver it.

Damien Egan is embraced after winning the by-election in the Kingswood constituency

“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.

In Wellingborough, the result announced at 4am showed Ms Kitchen, who cut short her honeymoon to campaign in the by-election, saw a Tory majority of more than 18,000 turn into a Labour majority of 6,436.

The swing of 28.5% is the largest from the Conservatives to UK Labour since the 1994 Dudley West by-election, where a 29.1% swing presaged Tony Blair’s landslide victory three years later.

Ms Kitchen said: “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.”

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

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

Counting at a Wellingborough by-election count centre

He said: “It’s a trust that I promise to repay, to show you that politics can be different and it can make difference.

The defeated Conservative candidate left the count as soon as Mr Egan had finished speaking, declining to comment to reporters.

The defeats mean the Conservatives have suffered more by-election losses in this parliament than any previous government since the 1960s, surpassing 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 for predicting what will happen at the general election.

He said: “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.”

Mr Rees-Mogg acknowledged the Tories would need to “learn” from the results.

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