Voters head into two Britain’s by-elections on Thursday that risk renewed pressure on beleaguered Prime Minister Boris Johnson after months of scandals and setbacks.
After both Tory MPs resigned in disgrace, their ruling Conservatives were tipped to lose both contests, for the parliamentary seats of Tiverton and Honiton in south-west England and the parliamentary seats of Wakefield in the north.
Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish resigned after admitting to viewing pornography on his phone in the House of Commons, while Wakefield’s Imran Ahmed Khan was jailed for sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
The votes came just weeks after Johnson avoided an attempt by his own lawmakers to oust him as party leader and prime minister.
More than 40 percent of the parliamentary party left him in a June 6 vote among Conservative lawmakers, leaving him severely vulnerable and struggling to resume his turbulent term in power.
Johnson has spent months fighting for his existence after several controversies, including the “Partygate” saga, have led many Tories to question whether he should stay on as leader.
Various opinion polls have shown that the public thinks he lied about the COVID lockdown-breaking incidents in Downing Street and should resign.
Even before the controversy began last December, the 58-year-old Brexit architect had twice seen the loss of secured seats in by-elections last year.
He then scored a dismal in the May local elections.
Losses in the true blue Tory heartland of Tiverton and Honiton, and at Wakefield, whom Johnson snatched in 2019 from the main opposition Labor Party for the first time since the 1930s, could see his position being challenged again.
Parish, who described his actions as an inevitable moment of “total madness”, won a majority of more than 24,000 in Tiverton and Honiton in 2019.
There, the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats hope to take a seat in rural Devon in 2021 after reversing a similarly large majority in two other historically secure Tory seats.
Wakefield, near Leeds, was one of dozens of so-called Labor “red wall” seats that Johnson took in 2019 on a promise to “complete Brexit” and address regional economic inequalities.
But Johnson’s declining popularity may now backfire.
Longtime Labor voter Stephen, a 61-year-old hospitality activist, told AFP this week: “As far as I’m concerned, the Tory is better than anything – especially Boris Johnson.”
‘PartyGate’ and prices
The elections come with a 40-year high in inflation in the UK and a crisis in the cost of living, which has seen prices rise for everyday essentials such as energy, petrol and food.
The strikes by rail workers this week – some of the biggest strikes Britain has seen in decades – have added to the sense of crisis.
Some in Wakefield said they expected the saga of the Downing Street parties to weigh heavily on voters’ minds.
“I think people will be affected by ‘Partygate,'” said David, a retired medical consultant.
“But I think the main thing we’re going to be impacted by is inflation and rising cost of living, heat, energy and food prices and being impacted by the outlook for the impact on transportation.”
The competition there also comes with risks for Labour, which needs to secure seats like Wakefield to win the next general election by 2024.
Labor leader Keir Starmer, a sober-minded former lawyer trying to rebuild the centre-left party after its 2019 defeat, has been criticized for failing to connect with voters, especially its former heart. in areas.
Anything less than a convincing victory in Wakefield is likely to be seized upon by his critics, as further evidence of his inability to complete Reconstruction and return the party to power after 12 years in opposition.
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