Rishi Sunak Has Faced 11 By-Elections Since Getting Into Power. Guess How Many He's Won?

Spoiler: It's not exactly been 16 months of victories.
Rishi Sunak hasn't had the best year in terms of by-elections.
Rishi Sunak hasn't had the best year in terms of by-elections.
JOE GIDDENS via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak secured his place in Number 10 almost 16 months ago – but what impact has he had on the Conservatives’ success in by-elections?

The prime minister, who became leader of the Tory party after Liz Truss’s resignation, has not yet faced a general election at the Conservative helm.

Sunak has tried to make his mark on the party by outlining his five priorities for 2023 (only one of which was a success), distancing himself from his predecessors and vowing to make the difficult “long-term” decisions for the country.

But, judging from his party’s performance in local elections, 2024′s anticipated general election is not looking too promising for the Tories.

Out of 11 opportunities to either grow their healthy majority – secured in the 2019 election with Boris Johnson – or hold onto strongholds seats, they’ve returned with just one Tory MP.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s happened over the last year and four months...

1. December 2022 – City of Chester

Labour to Labour

Chris Matheson stepped down from as the Labour Party’s MP after being suspended for serious sexual misconduct. The following by-election saw Labour hold onto the seat with their candidate Samantha Dixon, after she secured 10,974 votes with 60.8%.

The size of the win was a boost for Keir Starmer, and a major electoral blow for Sunak as the first by-election called since Johnson was ousted.

2. December 2022 – Stretford and Urmston

Labour to Labour

The Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, Kate Green, quit to take up a job as deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, meaning voters went to the polls again.

The party’s second by-election victory in just two weeks, Labour held onto the constituency with 12,828 votes – 69.65% of all ballots.

Meanwhile, Conservatives saw their share of the vote drop by 12%, with their candidate Emily Carter-Kandola getting just 2,922 votes.

3. February 2023 – West Lancashire

Labour to Labour

Shortly after Sunak had unveiled his five priorities for the year, another by-election set him back.

Rosie Cooper stepped down from her parliamentary seat after being appointed as chair of the Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, which meant she could not continue as an MP.

Labour held the constituency with a big 10% swing through its candidate Ashley Dalton, winning with 14,068 votes while Tory candidate Mike Prendergast got 5,742.

Dalton immediately told the Tories to “move out of the way” and called for a general election.

4. July 2023 – Uxbridge and South Ruislip

Conservative to Conservative

In Boris Johnson’s former seat, Sunak’s candidate Steve Tuckwell secured a narrow victory, winning by just 495 seats.

It was called following Johnson’s dramatic resignation the previous month, after he was found guilty by the privileges committee of repeatedly lying to parliament over partygate.

The last time these constituents went to the ballot box back in 2019, the ex-PM held onto his seat with a majority of 7,210.

It was a huge boost for Sunak, considering how the Tories had slumped in the polls throughout his time in office.

Labour’s candidate, Danny Beales, attributed his loss to his party’s policy of expanding the ULEZ (ultra low emissions zone) scheme, which was unpopular in this constituency.

Winning Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell with Labour candidate Danny Beales (left)
Winning Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell with Labour candidate Danny Beales (left)
Jordan Pettitt - PA Images via Getty Images

5. July 2023 – Selby and Ainsty

Tory to Labour

The Conservatives weren’t so lucky in Selby and Ainsty though, a constituency previously considered one of the safest in the country.

Tory MP Nigel Adams had retained the seat at the 2019 election with a majority of 20,137, but resigned earlier this year. He was one of several Tory MPs who said they were going to resign after Boris Johnson quit parliament.

Labour’s Keir Mather swept to victory, beating Conservative opponent Claire Holmes by 4,161 votes.

He became the constituency’s first ever Labour MP, and the biggest majority that Labour have ever overturned in a by-election.

6. July 2023 – Somerton and Frome

Tory to Lib Dem

The Conservatives lost their 19,213 majority in this constituency, following the resignation of former Tory MP David Warburton. He stepped down after allegations of sexual misconduct and drug taking.

The Lib Dems candidate, Sarah Dyke, received 21,187 votes, while Tory hopeful Faye Purbrick secured less than half of that - 10,179.

It brought the total number of Liberal Democrat MPs in Westminster up to 15.

7. October 2023 – Rutherglen and Hamilton West

SNP to Labour

MP Margaret Ferrier was effectively sacked by her constituents following her criminal conviction for breaking lockdown rules during the pandemic.

She had been an independent representative since being kicked out of her party back in 2020.

Labour’s Michael Shanks then saw off SNP’s candidate, Katy Loudon, by 9,446 votes earlier this month.

The Tories’ representative Thomas Kerr came in third place with 1,192 votes.

It was a major victory because the SNP has been the largest party in Scotland for more than a decade, and won 48 seats at the last general election.

Labour’s win meant the party doubled their number of Scottish MPs, from one to two – and put Starmer on track to reach his target of 20 seats in Scotland at the next general election.

8. October 2023 – Mid Bedfordshire

Tory to Labour

This was Nadine Dorries’ seat, the culture secretary under Boris Johnson who quit 78 days after she said she planned to step down “with immediate effect”.

Her decision came after she failed to get the peerage Johnson had promised to her.

She enjoyed a very comfortable majority of 24,664, but that was overturned by Labour’s candidate last night.

Alistair Strathern became the constituent’s first ever Labour MP with a majority of 13,872.

That’s 1,192 more than his Tory rival Festus Akinbusoye, resulting in a 20.5% swing away from the Tories to Labour.

Peter Kyle MP, Labour’s campaign co-ordinator, described the win as “the biggest by-election shock in history”.

9. October 2023 – Tamworth

Tory to Labour

Labour took ex-Tory MP Chris Pincher’s seat, meaning its candidate, Sarah Edward, became the new MP for Tamworth with 11,719 votes.

Tamworth was considered a safe Conservative seat with a majority of 19,634 – but last night’s by-election saw Tory candidate Andrew Cooper lose after securing just 10,403 votes.

Pincher resigned earlier this year amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which saw him suspended from the Commons for eight weeks.

This loss, together with the poor performance in Mid Bedfordshire, was slammed by former Tory chancellor George Osbourne.

He said it could spell “armageddon” for the political party.

Sarah Edwards of Labour alongside Conservative candidate Andrew Cooper (L) and Liberal Democrat candidate Sunny Virk.
Sarah Edwards of Labour alongside Conservative candidate Andrew Cooper (L) and Liberal Democrat candidate Sunny Virk.
Jacob King - PA Images via Getty Images

10. February 2024 – Kingswood

Conservative to Labour

Labour’s Damien Egan overturned a Tory majority of 11,220 on February 15 to become the new MP.

The former Conservative seat was up for grabs after energy minister Chris Skidmore resigned in protest to Sunak’s decision to water down his green pledges.

The Conservative vote in this constituency appeared to be split with Reform UK.

The Tory candidate Sam Bromiley received 8,675 votes, 34.8% of the total, while Reform UK candidate Rupert Lowe went home with his party’s best result so far, winning 10.4% of the vote.

11. February 2024 – Wellingborough

Conservative to Labour

February 15 turned out to be double trouble for the Tories, as voters ousted them in another by-election on the same day.

Labour’s Gen Kitchen won over voters with a 28.5% swing away from the Conservatives – that’s the second largest swing on record.

The Conservative vote share fell 38 points.

Kitchen secured 13,844 votes overall compared to the Conservative Helen Harrison’s 7,408 votes.

The by-election was triggered after longtime Tory MP Peter Bone was spurned by voters in a recall petition last autumn.

He lost the Tory whip in October 2023 after he was found to have bullied and sexually harassed a staff member and was suspended from the Commons for six weeks.

Enough voters in his seat then backed a petition for him to be removed as their MP.


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