Rishi Sunak begs frustrated Tories 'not to put Starmer in power' after party suffers double by-election disaster

16 February 2024, 11:50 | Updated: 16 February 2024, 12:21

Rishi Sunak (l) puts on a brave face to the Tories by-election defeats on a visit to Harlow. New Kingswood MP Damien Egan (top r) and Wellingborough MP Gem Kitchen (bottom r)
Rishi Sunak (l) puts on a brave face to the Tories by-election defeats on a visit to Harlow. New Kingswood MP Damien Egan (top r) and Wellingborough MP Gem Kitchen (bottom r). Picture: Alamy

By StephenRigley

Rishi Sunak bemoaned low voter turnout after the Conservatives endured a double by-election disaster.

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The PM put on a brave face as he warned that voting reform would only "put Keir Starmer in power" after Labour seized the previously Tory safe seats of Welingborough and Kingswood.

In Wellingborough, Gen Kitchen turned a Conservative majority of more than 18,500 in Wellingborough into a Labour one of 6,436 while in Kingswood former Lewisham mayor Damien Egan secured a majority of 2,501 after overturning the 11,220 Conservative majority. 

Senior Conservatives highlighted the scale of the collapse in the party's support - bigger than the swing to Labour - and sounded alarm at surges by Reform UK.

Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections were ‘particularly challenging’ PM insists after double defeat

Read More: 'They are not very good results': Tory chairman admits after double by-election drubbings as MPs call for tax cuts

Read More: Rishi Sunak suffers double by-election nightmare as Labour overturn massive majorities in Wellingborough and Kingswood

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On a visit to Harlow in Essex this morning, Mr Sunak said: "A vote for anyone who isn't the Conservative candidate, whether that's Reform or anyone else, is just a vote to put Keir Starmer in power.

"That's the actual choice at the general election, between me and him, between the Conservatives and Labour.

"Now I believe our plan is working. At the start of this year we're heading in the right direction, taxes are coming down, inflation is falling, and if we stick with that plan we can deliver everyone a brighter future."

Mr Sunak pointed to low turnout and "particular circumstances" in the contests.

"Midterm elections are always difficult for incumbent governments, and the circumstances of these elections were of course particularly challenging," he said.

"Now, I think if you look at the results, very low turnout, and it shows that we've got work to do to show people that we are delivering on their priorities and that's what I'm absolutely determined to do, but also shows that there isn't a huge amount of enthusiasm for the alternative in Keir Starmer and the Labour Party, and that's because they don't have a plan.

"And if you don't have a plan, you can't deliver real change. And when the general election comes, that's the message I'll be making to the country. Stick with our plan, because it is starting to deliver the change that the country wants and needs."

The Tories have now lost more by-elections since 2019 than any other government in a single term since the 1960s.

Earlier Conservative party chairman Richard Holden admitted Thursday night's by-election battering were "not very good results" as Tories demanded tax cuts to win back furious voters.

Reacting to the results, he told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "There is no point in beating around the bush these are not good results but both very low turnouts and sitting governments do not generally perform well in by-elections."

However, he said the local context of the by-elections was "not ideal", with the poll in Wellingborough triggered by the ousting of disgraced former MP Peter Bone and in Kingswood Chris Skidmore stood down less than a year before the general election.

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Conservative Party Chairman Richard Holden | 16/02/24

Read More: Third Labour politician 'spoken to' amid anti-Semitism row, as Starmer battles to control crisis ahead of by-elections

Read More: 'Starmer is the jellyfish of British politics': Michael Gove hits out at Labour leader after u-turn on green spending

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Sir John Redwood are among the party grandees calling for sizable tax cuts to kick-start economic growth.

Hailing Labour’s record victories on Friday, Sir Keir Starmer said the results showed “people want change".

He said: "These are fantastic results in Kingswood and Wellingborough that show people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed Labour Party to deliver it.

"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.

"Those who gave us their trust in Kingswood and Wellingborough, and those considering doing so, can be safe in the knowledge that we will spend every day working to get Britain's future back."

Gen Kitchen overturned the Wellingborough Tory majority.
Gen Kitchen overturned the Wellingborough Tory majority. Picture: Alamy

Richard Tice's thoughts on Labour's double by-election win

Newly elected Labour MP Damien Egan (centre) with Pat McFadden and Chris Bryant (right) surrounded by Labour party supporters after being declared winner in the Kingswood by-election
Newly elected Labour MP Damien Egan (centre) with Pat McFadden and Chris Bryant (right) surrounded by Labour party supporters after being declared winner in the Kingswood by-election. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Third Labour politician 'spoken to' amid anti-Semitism row, as Starmer battles to control crisis ahead of by-elections

Read More: 'Starmer is the jellyfish of British politics': Michael Gove hits out at Labour leader after u-turn on green spending

Ms Kitchen, the new MP for Wellingborough, said she was “ecstatic” with the result and that it shows people are “fed up” with the current political landscape.

She said: “I hope Damien [Egan, new Labour MP for Kingswood] is as ecstatic as I am, and I'm sure the Labour leadership will be as well.

"This shows that people are fed up, they want change, they want competency, they want pragmatism and they want politicians to under-promise and over-deliver, which is what I am hoping to do."

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