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Sunak urges right-leaning voters to unite to keep Starmer out of No 10

Rishi Sunak has called on British conservatives to “come together” after two heavy byelection losses to Labour.

The loss of votes to Labour and an emboldened Reform UK party came as a twin blow to the prime minister, and were just the latest in a series of byelection defeats for Sunak.

The results mean the current Conservative government has endured more byelection losses than any administration since the 1960s, surpassing the eight defeats suffered by John Major in the run-up to Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide victory.

Sunak, who had sought to play down the losses as “difficult” midterm elections, wrote a column for the Telegraph published on Friday night, calling on rightwing and conservative voters to unite to keep Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, out of 10 Downing Street.

He said: “Later this year, we will have a general election that will decide who governs our country. I am confident that by then we will have made more progress, that the plan will be delivering the security and opportunity that people crave.

“At the next election, I will need the support of everyone who wants lower taxes and secure borders because the alternative, Keir Starmer, believes in neither of those things.

“The Conservative family must come together to defeat Labour and ensure a brighter future for our country. A vote for anyone other than the Conservatives will just help Starmer.”

The Wellingborough byelection was triggered by the six-week Commons suspension of the former Tory MP Peter Bone after an inquiry found he had subjected a staff member to bullying and sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, the Kingswood vote came after former Conservative MP Chris Skidmore resigned in protest over government legislation to increase North Sea oil and gas drilling.

The results came as a boost to Labour after a difficult few days, with the party gripped by a row over antisemitism and reeling from the decision to drop its Rochdale byelection candidate, Azhar Ali.

Responding to the Labour wins, Starmer said: “I think there is a message now from these byelections … I think the country is crying out for change. Everybody knows that.

“Things aren’t working. Their NHS isn’t working. They’ve got a cost-of-living crisis. I think they’ve concluded that the Tories have failed after 14 years.”

The results are placing further pressure on Sunak from within the right of his party to “change course” with tax cuts and a harder stance on immigration to win back voters wooed by the Nigel Farage-linked Reform party.

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The defeats also capped a tricky few days for Sunak, after official figures showed the UK entered a technical recession at the end of last year.

The Tories have now clocked up more byelection defeats than any other government in a single parliament since Harold Wilson’s 1960s Labour administration.

It also means the party has suffered the most losses of any Conservative administration within any single parliament since the second world war.

The Conservatives sought to put a gloss on the results by highlighting low turnout, which stood at 37% in Kingswood and 38% in Wellingborough.

But Labour overturned majorities of 11,220 and 18,540 respectively, the government’s ninth and 10th byelection defeats of the current parliament and securing the second-largest swing from the Tories ever.