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Polls close in Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections as Labour hope to inflict double defeat on Rishi Sunak | Politics News

Votes are being counted in the Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections, where Labour will be looking to capitalise on the UK entering a recession to inflict a double defeat on Rishi Sunak.

The Tories are defending traditionally safe seats in South Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire, following the departures of Chris Skidmore and Peter Bone, respectively.

But the polls in both seats opened on the same day the UK economy officially entered recession, throwing into question Mr Sunak’s pledge to grow the economy and handing Labour the attack line of “Rishi’s recession”.

However, the Labour Party is enduring trouble of its own following the fallout over its candidate in the Rochdale by-election, which takes place later this month.

Conservatives have privately admitted that their party is braced for defeats in both by-elections, given the circumstances in which both Mr Bone and Mr Skidmore left parliament.

Politics latest: Votes being counted in by-elections

The Wellingborough seat, which the Tories currently hold with an 18,540 majority, was vacated after Mr Bone was found by parliament to have subjected a staff member to bullying and sexual misconduct – allegations he has denied.

Mr Skidmore quit his Kingswood seat, where the Tory majority is 11,220, over what he believed to be the government’s scaling back of green policies, specifically its plans to offer new licences for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.

At the next election, the Kingswood seat will cease to exist owing to the boundary review.

It is understood the Conservatives see both by-elections as the “worst possible circumstances” that are not comparable to a general election. They hope the swing away from the party will be smaller than the losses they endured in Tamworth and Selby last year, where the swing was more than 20% towards Labour.

Neither Mr Sunak nor any high-profile cabinet ministers have been seen in either Wellingborough or Kingswood in an indication of how the Tories are prioritising resources into mayoral contests in May and the general election, which is expected in the autumn.

The Tories are also braced for a good performance of rivals the Reform Party, which is expecting its best-ever result in Wellingborough.

Sources in the Reform Party have said they are aiming for their polling average of around 10%.

Labour, meanwhile, has sought to manage expectations given it hasn’t held both seats for a number of years.

‘Rishi’s recession’

A recession is defined as two consecutive three-month periods where the economy contracts rather than grows.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that gross domestic product (GDP), a major measure of economic growth, shrank 0.3% between October and December.

In response, the chancellor pointed to the fact the rate of inflation remained at 4% yesterday, despite forecasters predicting a rise.

Jeremy Hunt said high inflation remained “the single biggest barrier to growth” and added: “Low growth is not a surprise.”

He insisted there were “signs the British economy is turning a corner” and the UK must “stick to the plan – cutting taxes on work and business to build a stronger economy”.

But shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said that while the GDP figures are “provisional and may change”, it was “absolutely clear that Britain remains trapped in a spiral of economic decline”.

Ms Reeves said the prime minister’s promise to grow the economy had been “broken” and he had “now put the economy into reverse”.

“This is Rishi’s recession and it is the British people who will pay the price,” she said.

While Labour is still 19% ahead in the polls, according to Sky News’ poll tracker, the party has been enduring trouble of its own after it was forced to withdraw support of its candidate in the Rochdale by-election of 29 February over alleged antisemitic remarks.

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer argued he had taken “decisive action” concerning Mr Ali, the Tories have criticised the fact that Labour only withdrew support for Mr Ali in Rochdale when further comments came to light.

Labour was then rocked by revelations that another parliamentary candidate and former MP, Graham Jones, allegedly referred to “f***ing Israel” during the same meeting where Mr Ali made his initial comments – resulting in his suspension.

Read more from Sky News:
Tory economic plan is a tough sell to voters
‘Undeniably grim’: Why there’s been an unprecedented fall in living standards

Voters began casting their ballots in Thursday’s by-elections at 7am, with polling stations shutting their doors at 10pm.

Both results are expected in the early hours of Friday morning – and Sky News will bring you the news, analysis and reaction on a special programme from midnight, as well as online in the Politics Hub.

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