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Polls close in Kingswood and Wellingborough with Rishi Sunak facing double by-election disaster in two Tory seats expected to switch to Labour despite Keir Starmer’s Gaza chaos


Voting has closed in two by-elections that could heap fresh electoral woe on Rishi Sunak in this general election year.

The Tories do not expect to win the Kingswood and Wellingborough contests despite them taking place in what should be very safe Conservative seats. 

A Tory defeat in either constituency in the early hours of the morning would mean the Government has clocked up more by-election losses in a single parliament than any administration since the 1960s. 

Both seats were won with healthy five-digit majorities in 2019. But senior figures expect a low turnout as disaffected Conservatives stay away from the ballot boxes. 

The votes have been triggered by the recall of Peter Bone in Wellingborough over bullying allegations, and Chris Skidmore quitting in protest in Kingswood at the government backing off Net Zero plans.

But the Tories have not thrown everything at holding the seats. Mr Bone’s partner, Helen Harrison, was the controversial choice for the Wellingborough candidate. And the manor of his departure after being suspended over his treatment of a former aide hitting the Tory vote.

Meanwhile few MPs have campaigned for Sam Bromiley in Kingswood, a seat in the Bristol suburbs that will disappear later this year at the general election.

It comes against a backdrop of the UK falling into recession today, a month before the next Budget, and months before the whole country is due to go to the polls. 

However, the result will also be watched closely by Labour, which has also had a torrid week of negative headlines over green policy and Gaza, to see if they have affected the party’s popularity.

The Tories do not expect to win the Kingswood and Wellingborough (pictured) contests despite them taking place in what should be very safe seats.

The Tories do not expect to win the Kingswood and Wellingborough (pictured) contests despite them taking place in what should be very safe seats.

A Tory defeat in either constituency in the early hours of the morning would mean the Government has clocked up more by-election losses in a single parliament than any administration since the 1960s.

A Tory defeat in either constituency in the early hours of the morning would mean the Government has clocked up more by-election losses in a single parliament than any administration since the 1960s.

The votes have been triggered by the recall of Peter Bone (pictured, with his partner, the Tory Wellingborough candidate Helen Harrison)  in Wellingborough over bullying allegations, and Chris Skidmore (below) quitting in protest in Kingswood at the government backing off Net Zero plans.

The votes have been triggered by the recall of Peter Bone (pictured, with his partner, the Tory Wellingborough candidate Helen Harrison)  in Wellingborough over bullying allegations, and Chris Skidmore (below) quitting in protest in Kingswood at the government backing off Net Zero plans.

Both seats were won with healthy five-digit majorities in 2019. But senior figures expect a low turnout as disaffected Conservatives stay away from the ballot boxes.

Both seats were won with healthy five-digit majorities in 2019. But senior figures expect a low turnout as disaffected Conservatives stay away from the ballot boxes.

A Tory spokesman said: ‘We have fought robust campaigns on the ground in both of these seats with local candidates. But these by-elections were always going to be hard.

‘The Government of the day rarely win by-elections. Both of these seats have been Labour recently and they require smaller swings than were seen in recent by-elections.’

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, added: ‘Our campaigns have focused relentlessly on the cost of living and delivering for working people. We have highlighted that people in Kingswood and Wellingborough deserve better than a Tory government which has presided over 14 years of failure and left the economy in tatters. Rishi’s recession means this Tory Government is unable to concentrate on what matters to people in both these areas and across the country.’

Keir Starmer has been derided for his weak response to comments by his candidate in the upcoming Rochdale by-election. 

Azhar Ali apologised after he was recorded during a meeting of Lancashire Labour members suggesting that Israel had taken Hamas‘ October 7 attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

The party leadership initially stood by him, but withdrew its backing after allegations emerged that he had also blamed ‘people in the media from certain Jewish quarters’ for the suspension of Labour MP Andy McDonald.

A second parliamentary candidate, Graham Jones, was suspended on Tuesday after audio obtained by website Guido Fawkes appeared to show the former Labour MP using abusive language at the same meeting Mr Ali attended.

Both votes are seen as two-horse races between Labour and the Conservatives – though the Tories are also threatened by strengthening support for Reform UK.

Kingswood’s vote was triggered by Mr Skidmore’s resignation as an MP in protest at Government legislation to boost North Sea oil and gas drilling.

He won the Gloucestershire constituency for the Tories at the past four general elections, before which Labour held it at every general election since 1992.

The Opposition needs a much smaller swing to overturn the Conservative majority of 23 per cent than the ones it recently secured in Tamworth, Selby and Ainsty and Mid Bedfordshire.

The by-election in Wellingborough comes after former Tory MP Mr Bone received a six-week suspension from the Commons when an inquiry found he had subjected a staff member to bullying and sexual misconduct.

He won the Northamptonshire constituency at every general election from 2005 to 2019, with Labour coming second in four of the five contests and Ukip in 2015. His majority in 2019 was 36 per cent.

The swing needed by Labour to win the seat is at 17.9 percentage points – in other words, the equivalent of a net change of 18 in every 100 people who voted Tory in 2019 switching sides.

A Savanta poll conducted over the weekend showed Labour 12 points ahead, but the advantage had dropped dramatically

A Savanta poll conducted over the weekend showed Labour 12 points ahead, but the advantage had dropped dramatically

The outcomes in Kingswood and Wellingborough will be closely watched for evidence of any hit to Sir Keir's (pictured this morning) support from the party's meltdown over the Middle East

The outcomes in Kingswood and Wellingborough will be closely watched for evidence of any hit to Sir Keir’s (pictured this morning) support from the party’s meltdown over the Middle East

This is still a smaller swing than the ones managed by Labour in 2023 at the by-elections in Tamworth, Selby & Ainsty and Mid Bedfordshire.

One senior Tory who has been on doorsteps in the seats over the past week told MailOnline: ‘Kingswood and Wellingborough are going to be lost. But the narrative is that Keir is expected to win them, and the turnout is going to be very low again. 

‘He is not convincing people, it’s the Tories not showing up.’ 

According to the latest voting intention poll from Savanta, the lead enjoyed by Labour over the Conservatives has dropped by seven points after a turbulent couple of weeks for the party.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party has held a sustained double-digit advantage over the Tories in national opinion polls, but the past week has been overshadowed by criticism of remarks made by Rochdale candidate

Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm on Thursday, with the results expected to be declared in both constituencies some time after 4am.

The Rochdale by-election will take place separately on February 29.

Due to new laws brought in by the Government, voters will need to bring photo ID – such as a passport or driving licence – in order to cast their ballots.



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