Labor candidate Alistair Strathern (R), a former teacher, took the mostly rural Mid Bedfordshire seat from the ruling Conservative Party with a 1,192 vote majority. Photo courtesy Alistair Strathern/X
Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Britain's ruling Conservative Party suffered major defeats Friday in two local elections in England to replace members of parliament who had stood down.
Opposition Labor overturned large Conservative majorities in the constituencies of Mid-Bedfordshire and Tamworth in the Midlands with victories that it said "redrew" the country's political map.
Alistair Strathern beat Festus Akinbusoye by 13,872 votes to 12,680 to take the rural Mid Beds seat previously held by cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, for the first time ever.
The constituency, which had been in Conservative hands unbroken for almost a century saw a 20.5% swing to Labor as Strathern annihilated Dorries' 24,664 majority.
In Tamworth, Staffordshire, another safe Conservative seat, Sarah Edwards prevailed over Andrew Cooper by 11,719 votes to 10,403. Labor demolished the 19,634 majority of the constituency's former MP, Chris Pincher, who quit after being suspended from parliament over a sexual misconduct scandal.
Speaking from the Bedfordshire constituency, Labor leader Keir Starmer told supporters the result was a "game-changer."
"There is a confidence now in this changed Labor party that we can go anywhere across the country, put up a fight and win seats that we've never won before," Starmer said, adding that while he didn't want to "get carried away" he felt that "every single vote on this journey has to be earned."
However, turnout was low -- 36% in Tamworth and 44% in Mid-Beds -- which the Conservatives said hurt their candidates disproportionately.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan insisted there had not been a swing to Labor and that a party could see an apparent swing without a single person defecting, simply through its voters not turning out to vote
"On the doorsteps [in the consituencies] there were very, very few people who were switching over. There was no real love for Labor," she told ITV News.
Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands said the results were "clearly disappointing" but sought to disassociate what he said was unhappiness with the party from Sunak whom he said would lead the Conservatives to victory in the next general election.
"The Labor vote hardly went up at all, in fact, it went down slightly in Mid Bedfordshire, no breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats," he said. "But clearly disappointing for us and we'll have to reflect on the fact that a large number of Conservative voters stayed at home."
The losses come three months after the party lost two more seats to opposition parties in July. Labor and the Liberal Democrats overturned large Conservative majorities in the rural constituencies of Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire and Somerton and Frome in the west country.
However, the Conservatives narrowly held onto former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suburban London seat of Uxbridge.
By law, a general election must be held before the end of 2024.