Tories brace for trouble as by-election votes count

The Conservative Party faces the prospect of losing two seats in a by-election, which could lead to fresh questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Ballots were cast in the constituencies of Wakefield, Tiverton and Honiton after contests held by Tory MPs resigning in disgrace.

With Labor vying for the ‘Red Wall’ seat in West Yorkshire and the Liberal Democrats hoping to topple a huge Tory majority in Devon, the Tory defeat will put pressure on Mr Johnson weeks after 41% of his own MPs said they had not. trust him.

He suggested it would be “crazy” for him to quit if the party lost both seats, and claimed he was “very optimistic” about the outcome.

Mr Johnson will be watching the results from Rwanda, where he is attending the Commonwealth Nations Leaders’ Summit.

“I will watch the results with interest but still full of optimism and dynamism,” he said in Kigali.

“But most seasoned political observers know that midterm by-elections are never necessarily easy for a government.”

Despite Mr Johnson’s claims, a senior Tory source acknowledged that the situation looked “extremely difficult” in the Devon seat, where the Tories were defending a majority of more than 24,000.

In Wakefield, a Labor campaign source said Sir Keir Starmer’s party would ‘just’ win the contest to replace Imran Ahmad Khan, who quit after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy – a crime for which he was imprisoned. 18 months.

Wakefield was one of the Red Wall seats won by the Conservatives in the 2019 general election after having been Labor since the 1930s.

Wakefield by-election – in pictures

In Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, the Tory MP since 2010, resigned after he admitted watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats are hoping to recreate by-election victories in North Shropshire in December and in Chesham and Amersham a year ago by taking a seat in the Tory heartland.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said the party’s candidate, Richard Foord, had ‘defended his local community’ against ‘a Conservative party that has taken the people of Devon for granted’.

“Never in the history of British politics has such a large majority been overturned in a by-election. We have said throughout this campaign that this is a huge mountain to climb,” said Ms Jardine.

“However, if the Conservative Party loses a significant number of votes tonight in one of its most secure seats in the country, countless Conservative MPs will be looking nervously over their shoulders tomorrow.”

What do voters have to say in the UK by-elections of Tiverton and Honiton? Video

Mr Johnson urged voters in the rural seat to ‘support British food and farming’ by backing Conservative Helen Hurford, a former school headmistress.

The loss of the Tory stronghold would be seen as a sign of Mr Johnson’s waning electoral appeal after scandals around lockdown parties in Downing Street and amid the cost of living crisis.

It could also spark more backlash against Mr Johnson’s authority.

The Tories face a tougher challenge to retain the Wakefield seat, with Labor favored to overthrow the 2019 Tory majority of 3,358.

Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised his eyebrows as he said last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan’s sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust GPs despite the crimes of the mass murderer Harold Shipman.

Sir Keir said a victory for candidate Simon Lightwood in the northern constituency “could be the birthplace of the next Labor government”.

If the Conservatives were to lose both by-elections, it would only be the seventh time a government has suffered a double defeat since World War II.

“Labour ran positive campaigns with fantastic candidates in both by-elections,” said Shabana Mahmood, the party’s national campaign co-ordinator.

“But we know that to take the seats many Conservative voters have to switch to Labour, which is more difficult in by-elections where low turnout is common.

“Wakefield has been a fringe constituency since Labor’s last general election victory, and the Conservatives have held the seat with the largest majority since 2010, making it a daunting task.”

Updated: June 24, 2022, 04:52

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