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Sunak’s Conservatives Face 2 Defeats, But Avoid Wipeout in UK Special Elections

by Lucas Garcia
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UK special elections

The governing Conservative Party in Britain experienced significant setbacks in two out of three special elections on Friday. However, they managed to avoid a complete drubbing by retaining former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s seat in suburban London.

While the main opposition Labour Party and the centrist Liberal Democrats both achieved victories, overturning substantial Conservative majorities to secure one seat each, the Conservative Party found some solace in their narrow success in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London.

Despite this, if the results from Thursday’s elections were replicated in a likely general election next year, the Labour Party would emerge as the largest single party, possibly with a considerable overall majority.

The seat of Selby and Ainsty in northern England was won by the Labour Party, with their 25-year-old candidate Keir Mather securing the party’s second-largest swing at a special election since 1945. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer hailed this as a historic result, showcasing the party’s renewed focus on the priorities of working people with an ambitious and practical plan.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats achieved victory in Somerton and Frome in southwest England, experiencing a significant swing away from the Conservatives. Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey stated that this result reflects the sentiment of people fed up with the Conservative government under Rishi Sunak.

One clear aspect of both elections was the tactical voting by voters from both opposition parties, strategically supporting the party most likely to defeat the Conservative candidate. Facing this level of tactical voting has left many Conservative lawmakers anxious ahead of the potential national vote next year.

Despite the defeats, the current government won’t change as the Conservatives still hold a substantial majority in the House of Commons.

For months, opinion polls have consistently shown Labour with a double-digit lead over the Conservatives nationwide, which has been in power since 2010. The party has been grappling with the repercussions of the turbulent terms of Boris Johnson and his successor, Liz Truss, who resigned after proposing unfunded tax cuts that raised concerns among financial markets and exacerbated a cost-of-living crisis.

Boris Johnson himself quit as Prime Minister last September and left Parliament last month after being accused of misleading the House of Commons regarding lockdown breaches. Other MPs, including an ally of Johnson’s in Selby, and a member of Parliament in Somerton and Frome, resigned amid allegations of misconduct.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who must call a general election by January 2025 at the latest, might consider reshuffling his government in response to the election results.

The focus will also turn to Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has been cautious in outlining his plans for government.

The failure to secure victory in Boris Johnson’s former seat may raise concerns over London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s proposal to extend an anti-pollution zone to all outer boroughs of the capital, imposing daily emissions charges on many older cars and diesel vehicles.

Conservative ministers have sought to portray the overall election results as mixed, pointing out that many governments often face significant defeats in special elections.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UK special elections

What were the results of the UK special elections?

The governing Conservative Party suffered two significant defeats in a trio of special elections. The main opposition Labour Party and the centrist Liberal Democrats won one seat each, while the Conservatives narrowly held onto former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

What implications do these election results have for future elections?

If these results were replicated in a likely general election next year, the Labour Party would likely emerge as the largest single party, possibly with a substantial overall majority.

What was notable about the tactical voting in these elections?

Voters from both opposition parties strategically supported the party most likely to defeat the Conservative candidate. This level of tactical voting has left many Conservative lawmakers concerned about the potential national vote next year.

What led to the Conservative Party’s setbacks?

The Conservative Party has been facing fallout from the turbulent terms of Boris Johnson and his successor, Liz Truss. Concerns were raised by financial markets over Truss’s plan for unfunded tax cuts, which also contributed to a cost-of-living crisis.

Is there any speculation about changes in the government?

There is speculation that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who must call a general election by January 2025, could consider reshuffling his government in response to the election results.

How are other political figures reacting to the outcomes?

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer hailed the victory in Selby and Ainsty as a historic result, showing the party’s focus on the priorities of working people. Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey sees the results in Somerton and Frome as reflecting widespread dissatisfaction with the Conservative government.

What impact do the election results have on the current government?

Despite the defeats, the Conservative Party’s majority in the House of Commons remains substantial, so there is no change in government.

How has public opinion been trending in recent times?

Opinion polls have consistently shown Labour with a double-digit lead over the Conservatives, indicating widespread public support for the opposition party.

How might the election results affect future policy decisions?

The results raise concerns over London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand an anti-pollution zone in the capital, given the failure to secure victory in Boris Johnson’s former seat. This may prompt a reevaluation of environmental policies in the region.

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