Britain’s ruling Conservative Party lost the first of two parliamentary elections in a fresh blow to its embattled leader, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose future has been questioned by critics within his fractious political party.

The Conservatives were defeated in Kingswood, near Bristol, by 8,675 to 11,176 votes, losing a seat the party had previously held. Votes were cast on Thursday to replace two Conservative lawmakers who had left Parliament, with the first set of results announced on Friday morning.

With a general election expected later this year, the result is likely to compound Sunak’s difficulties at a time when the British economy is contracting, interest rates are high and the British health service appears to be in a slump. almost permanent state of crisis. Opinion polls show his party trailing the opposition Labor Party by double-digit margins.

The results of the second parliamentary election, held in Wellingborough, are expected on Friday morning. Turnout in both races was low, less than 40 percent, and many people stayed home rather than vote.

The gloomy mood within the Conservative Party had already deepened on Thursday, after the release of economic data showing that in the final months of 2023, Britain had officially entered recession.

Although the latest 0.3 per cent contraction in Britain’s gross domestic product was superficial, confirmation that the economy had contracted and fallen into recession was nonetheless a blow to Sunak, who had made a series of promises last year, including stimulating economic growth. .

In recent weeks, ministers have claimed the economy had turned a corner, with Sunak urging Britons to “stick to the plan” he had outlined to combat inflation and revive the economy. That argument, likely to be the cornerstone of the Conservative Party’s election campaign, could prove harder to sustain before growth returns. On Thursday, the Labor Party attempted to put the blame squarely on Sunak for what it called “the Rishi recession”.

The latest election setback for the Conservatives puts even more pressure on Sunak after a bad week for Labor Party leader Keir Starmer, who was forced to suspend two of his parliamentary candidates over comments they made about Israel.

Earlier this year, a former cabinet minister, Simon Clarke, called on the prime minister to resign, and analysts will be watching closely to see whether more Conservative lawmakers are alarmed enough about their electoral prospects to push for a change of leader. .

Forcing Sunak to resign would be difficult, not least because the Conservatives have already replaced two prime ministers, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, since winning the last general election in 2019. Any new push to unseat Sunak would likely increase public clamor for a quick general election, which must take place next January and which Sunak has promised to call in 2024.

Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, had been considered one of the Conservative Party’s safest seats. But its former lawmaker, Peter Bone, was suspended from Parliament after an investigation found he had subjected a staff member to bullying and sexual misconduct.

Bone denied the allegations against him but, following his suspension, enough voters in Wellingborough signed a petition to trigger a new election for the parliamentary seat.

The Conservative Party then selected Bone’s partner Helen Harrison to run to replace him.

In Kingswood, near Bristol, the Conservatives won the last election by 11,000 votes.

The vacancy in Kingswood was caused by the resignation of Chris Skidmore, a former energy minister who decided to leave Parliament after Sunak’s government said it would offer more licenses for North Sea oil and gas drilling. In his resignation letter, Skidmore said he was resigning “in protest at the government’s decision to prioritize and politicize new oil and gas licenses over a sensible investment plan for the future.”

Early on Friday morning, victorious Labor candidate Damien Egan told supporters: “Our country is at a crossroads. Under the Conservative government we can choose more controlled decline, more chaos and more division. “Or we can elect a changed Labor Party, a government that puts people first.”

By Sam