Britain’s ruling Conservative Party held on to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former seat on Friday, but swept away majorities in two other seats due to scandals and high inflation. Rishi Sunak was expected to become the first prime minister to lose three parliamentary seats in a single day, but escaped humiliation with a narrow victory in west London’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.
While that result may have brought some relief to the embattled Sunak, the elimination of his party’s 19,000 majority in the Somerton and Frome seat and 20,000 in the Selby and Ainstey constituency will be a major blow ahead of a possible general election next year.
Labor won the Selby and Ainstey seat in northern England by 16,456 votes to 12,295, overcoming its biggest deficit in a by-election since World War II.
The winning candidate, Keir Mather, 25, accused the government of “negligence and complacency” in his victory speech, saying that “for too long the Conservatives here and at Westminster have failed us”.
In the seat of Somerton and Frome in south-west England, the Liberal Democrats won by a vote of 21,187 to 10,179, with winning candidate Sarah Dyke hailing a “stunning and historic victory” and hitting out at a “sad government”.
He said, “We have been let down and taken for granted. This government is too busy being a circus of chaos – enough is enough.”
The Tories were also expected to lose Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Johnson’s former seat, but he won by 13,965 votes to 13,470, shocking Labor leader Keir Starmer and Labor Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
The winning candidate, Steve Tuckwell, said the “number one” issue was extending the mine’s tax on polluting vehicles to outer London boroughs.
He said Labor MPs in the same seats would “now be nervous” and the result was likely to trigger talks between Starmer and Khan.
However, heavy defeats in the other two contests have left Sunak more vulnerable ahead of a possible general election next year, brought in by a six-week recess of parliament.
The main opposition Labor Party is currently enjoying a double-digit electoral lead and looks set to retake power for the first time in more than a decade.
It has won six by-elections since March last year, taking two seats from the Tories.
The contest for Uxbridge and South Ruislip began last month after Johnson resigned as MP amid scandal.
He quit after learning that a cross-party parliamentary committee had concluded that he had deliberately lied to MPs about parties breaking lockdown during the COVID pandemic and recommended a 90-day suspension.
While much of the focus was on Johnson, voter Deborah Willott, 65, told AFP: “It’s a by-election so it’s really focused on much more local issues than the general election,” as she voted at a church polling place. Cast your opinion.
Johnson’s aide Nigel Adams quit shortly after failing to be nominated for a peerage, triggering a Selby and Einstey by-election.
A third vote in Somerton and Frome was called after he stood down following Tory MP David Warburton’s admission of cocaine use.
Sunak, who has not been seen on the campaign trail, tried to project a normal image on Thursday but privately briefed backbench MPs on worst-case scenarios.
Sunak became prime minister after the disastrous 44-day term of predecessor Liz Truss and was initially successful in stabilizing jittery financial markets with his radical tax-cut agenda.
But the 43-year-old former finance minister has struggled to reverse his party’s declining fortunes, which first came to the fore under Johnson during the so-called “Partygate” scandal.
Sunak’s turnaround efforts have been partly hampered by persistently high inflation, which has once again spooked markets in recent months.
With interest rates at their highest in 15 years, mortgage and other borrowing costs rising steadily, the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation is showing few signs of abating.
Sunak began the year by making five key pledges to voters, including halving inflation, boosting the economy and reducing waiting times in the highly beleaguered National Health Service.
He has made little progress on most of the promises, and there remain persistent fears Britain will slide into recession this year as high interest rates continue to constrain spending.
According to YouGov, Sunak’s net favorability has fallen to his lowest level (-40) since he entered Downing Street, with two-thirds of Britons saying they have an unfavorable view of him.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV Staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)