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Following Sunak's double defeat in by-elections, Rishi is under fire

For the government, Labour's victories in Kingswood and Wellingborough couldn't come at a worse time.

It would be an understatement to say that this has been a bad week for the government. On Thursday, it was revealed that the UK dipped into recession at the end of last year, shrinking by 0.3 percent between October and December. An economy is in recession if it contracts for two consecutive quarters.

On Friday, however, things were made worse for the Conservative government when they lost two parliamentary seats to Labour in a double by-election. What has made these defeats particularly devastating is that both were safe Conservative seats that swung massively towards Labour. Wellingborough, which had an 18,500 Conservative majority, won on a swing of 28.5 percent.

This has led to criticism from backbench Conservative MPs, who fear a Labour landslide at the next election. The co-chairs of the New Conservatives group of MPs, Mirriam Cates and Danny Kruger, have requested the government “cut taxes that hit working families, including lowering the rate of income tax and raising punitive thresholds.”.

Urging the government to “change course,” they have also suggested that the UK leave the European Convention of Human Rights and “repeal the Human Rights Act if courts in Strasbourg or Britain invoke European rights laws to stop the removal of illegal migrants.”

Many on the right of the Conservative Party fear they risk losing votes to Reform UK, a right-wing populist party that won double-digit support in both by-election seats. Even if Reform does not win any seats, it is expected that it will cost the Tories massively by stealing 2019 Conservative voters and splitting the right-wing vote.

Either way, they are set up to be a key player in the run-up to this year’s general election, holding Sunak’s feet to the fire over issues such as the record-high tax burden and record levels of immigration.

The leader of Reform UK, Richard Tice, has made clear his plan to “destroy” the Conservative Party at the next election.

In an interview with Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5, he said, “More people are hearing about us, and they’re saying, actually, their policies, we like what we hear, we like that fresh approach, a very business-like approach.”

Reform’s candidate, Ben Habib, who came in third in the Wellingborough by-election, said people were “absolutely fed up with the manner in which this country is being governed.”.

Currently, the government has resisted calls to swing to the right. In large part, this is because of the dire economic situation, which makes large tax cuts unfeasible. Instead, Sunak has stuck to the core messaging of his five pledges: halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting lists, and stopping the boats.

The problem for the Prime Minister, however, is that he has so far failed to meet most of his targets. Rather than growing the economy, it has instead gone into recession. This will particularly damage the government’s credibility over the coming months.

The only pledge that the Prime Minister can confidently say he has met is the pledge to cut inflation, which has fallen by more than half since last year. With his party on the ropes, unless Sunak takes drastic action to address the concerns of voters, things will continue to go from bad to worse.


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