Amid Calls for Change: How Britain’s By-Election Results Tested the Tories’ Popularity

Murad Jandali | 9 months ago

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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak survived a tough defeat in the recent by-election to elect new MPs in 3 seats after the Tories retained Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Although this loss may not affect the absolute majority of the Tories in Parliament, it is a microcosm of what could happen in the general elections scheduled for 2024.

In conjunction with the by-election setback, figures indicate that dozens of Tory MPs decided not to run for the next general elections.

In the same context, members of the Tories called on Sunak to change his strategy and make an amendment to the cabinet after he suffered a setback in by-elections of great importance before the 2024 general elections.

Bloomberg reported that Sunak is sticking to achieving an economic miracle before the next general election after the defeat in the by-elections showed that voters had little patience with his strategy.

 

By-Election Defeat

The ruling Tories lost 2 out of 3 parliamentary seats for which by-elections were held on July 20, 2023, after the deputies representing their regions resigned about a month ago, as reported by Sky News.

The Labour Party took the seat of Selby and Ainsty in Yorkshire, northern England, where Keir Mather, who became the youngest MP in the UK Parliament, won 16,456 votes, compared to 12,295 votes for the Tory candidate.

The Guardian newspaper quoted some Tory members of parliament as believing that their defeat in that region is a harbinger of a catastrophic defeat in the next general elections.

Also, as expected, the Tories lost by a wide margin the seat of Somerton and Frome in the southwest of England, where Liberal Democrat Sarah Dyke won 21,187 votes against 10,179 votes for the Tory candidate.

In the constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, west London, which was occupied by former PM Boris Johnson, the Tories won by a narrow margin. Tory Steve Tuckwell won by 13,965 votes, compared to 13,470 votes for the Labour candidate.

This helped Sunak avoid becoming the first PM since Harold Wilson (1968) to lose 3 by-elections at once.

The figures showed a decline in the number of voters for the ruling party in the 2023 by-election regions, compared to 2019. as the Tories lost more than 26% of their votes in Selby and Ainsty, about 30% in Somerton and Frome, and about 6% in Uxbridge.

However, the results of the by-elections did not affect the absolute majority of the Tories in the House of Commons but reduced the share of the ruling party in the House by two seats to 351 out of 650 seats, while the share of the opposition Labour increased by one seat to 197, the same applies to the Liberal Democrats, who now have 17.

Sunak acknowledged the harsh defeat suffered by the ruling party in the north and southwest of England, but the victory of the Tories in the Boris Johnson region indicates, in his opinion, that the upcoming general elections are not as settled as some think, pledging to fulfill all that he promised the Britons before the date of that maturity.

Sunak’s remarks were matched by Labor leader Keir Starmer by praising his party’s historic victory in Selby and Ainsty, known as a Tory stronghold since 2010.

Starmer saw that this victory indicates the British aspiration for Labour leadership for the state in the next general elections.

Former minister and Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC that the results of the by-election should not panic the ruling party, citing what happened between 1987 and 1992, when the Tories lost by-elections during these years, then regained every seat they lost in the 1992 parliamentary elections.

Rees-Mogg pointed out that what the Tories need today is to rally behind Sunak and support him to achieve what he promised the Britons economically and politically, adding that retaining the Uxbridge seat reflects the continued confidence of many in the street in the ruling party.

Opinions differed on the reasons for the Tory retaining the Uxbridge seat, but Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said, in a statement to The Guardian, that “the matter goes back to the case of popular rejection of the plan of the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to impose taxes on the environmental impact of somewhat old vehicles and cars, when they enter the British capital.”

Rayner explained that Khan’s environmental plan, known as Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), is not popular with residents of the capital, and this is what prompted voters in Uxbridge to vote for the Tory candidate who pledged to work against taxing cars, pointing out that whoever does not listen to the voters loses the vote.

 

Sunak’s Problems

While Sunak vowed to stick to his plan, ministers, deputies, and advisors from the ruling party said the results meant more efforts were needed.

They believed that Sunak should make adjustments in the cabinet, change his tactics, and unveil new policies at the Tory conference scheduled for next October to create dividing lines with the opposition.

Officials said that if Sunak did not heed the warnings, his party could suffer defeat in the upcoming general elections.

Sunak, who trails Labour in recent opinion polls, is considering holding a general election in November 2024 to give the economy as long as possible to recover.

Bloomberg considered that the main problem is that Sunak’s promises seem more difficult to achieve now than when he made them himself.

Economists expect a recession, especially with the national debt reaching 100% of GDP for the first time in decades, waiting lists for the NHS have set a record, and small migrant boat crossings remain high.

A Tory MP pointed out that if Sunak continued to highlight his pledges and did not abide by them, the Labor Party’s arguments will be more stable, and he may face calls to resign.

Although Sunak avoided a complete defeat in the recent by-election, his favorability rating has largely fallen to minus 40, the lowest score since he assumed the leadership in October 2022.

In a poll conducted by YouGov, 65% of Britons expressed a negative opinion of Sunak’s performance.

This is in addition to his failure to control the rise in inflation, the deterioration of public services, especially the health sector, and the chaos caused by former leader Boris Johnson and, after him, Liz Truss.

High inflation, which reached 7.9% last June, affected the purchasing power of the British, in addition to the recent elections coinciding with the strike of both railway workers and hospital doctors.

 

Political Competition

In addition to its resounding loss in the recent by-elections, the ruling party today suffers from many losses, as it is twenty points behind Labour, according to recent polls.

These tensions were reflected in the Tories themselves. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced last week that he joined about fifty Tory MPs who do not intend to run again, which reinforced expectations of a majority defeat in the upcoming general elections.

Wallace will also leave the government in the next cabinet reshuffle, which is expected to take place next September, unless Sunak reshuffles his team this week to regain the initiative.

Attorney Bassam Tablieh said in a statement to Al-Estiklal that “those who withdraw from the next electoral race cannot be judged by fear of the expected loss, with the decline in the popularity of the ruling party during the past two years.”

He pointed out that “some of them realized the change in the directions of their region because of what happened to the UK as a result of Brexit, the Tory scandals, or other internal or external reasons, but it is not possible to generalize, especially since changes in politics are always present.”

In another context, the recent by-elections reflected fierce competition between a long list of political parties to represent the regions of the UK, led by the Liberal Democrats, who are the third largest in the country after Tories and Labour.

This party was able to grab the seat of the ruling party in Somerton and Frome after the number of voters increased by nearly 29% compared to the number of its supporters in the last general elections.

The list of political parties in the UK includes more than 15 parties, the largest of which is Labour in terms of the number of members.

It is noteworthy that 13 parties have representation in the current parliament, and the overwhelming majority of seats are distributed among the Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish National, Sinn Fein, Independence, and Democratic Unionist.

Recent polls predict that Labour will win the next general election with the support of more than 48% of Britons, compared to only 23% of voters for the Tories.

According to recent polls, 14% expected the next government to be a coalition between Labour and another party, and 9% expected it to be a coalition government led by the Tories.