Rishi Sunak, the ruling Conservative Party’s leader, faced a significant political setback as his party suffered defeat in a crucial parliamentary election in northern England, losing to the Labour Party. This defeat overturned a substantial majority and has given Keir Starmer’s party considerable momentum as they prepare for a national election expected next year.
In addition to the defeat in northern England, the Tories also lost a key seat in southwest England to the Liberal Democrats, which adds further concern for the prime minister. However, Sunak avoided a complete wipeout as his party managed to hold onto former leader Boris Johnson’s seat in a closely contested result on the outskirts of London.
Despite downplaying their chances in the three special elections held in different parts of England, the Conservative Party’s defeat in all three contests raises questions about their ability to reverse the slump in the polls. The decline in popularity began under Johnson’s leadership and has not fully recovered from Liz Truss’s unsuccessful seven-week premiership last autumn.
In the recent election held in Selby and Ainsty, a rural constituency in North Yorkshire, Keir Mather achieved a remarkable victory by securing 46% of the vote. This seat had been under Conservative control since its establishment in 2010, with Labour obtaining only 25% of the vote in the previous contest in 2019. The Conservative candidate, Claire Holmes, came in second with 34% of the vote, a significant drop from the 60% they received in the previous election.
The Starmer Party cited district-specific reasons as the reason why their candidate was unable to advance. The Tories attempted to turn the vote—which they anticipated would lose—into an unofficial referendum on the contentious proposals to tax automobiles in the district in an effort to cut pollution, known as the Ultra Low Emission Zone. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a member of the Labour Party, is promoting that programme.
Johnson first won Uxbridge in 2015 and kept the seat with 53% of the vote in 2019, when he also helped the Tories to a resounding victory at the national level.
But after a commission determined he had lied to Parliament about rule-breaking parties at Downing Street during the pandemic, he was forced to resign as prime minister the previous year and as an MP in June.
But additional elections are anticipated in two more Tory-held regions, Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth, raising the possibility that an unfavourable narrative may continue throughout Sunak’s autumn campaign.