Boris Johnson put to the test by two difficult by-elections

LONDON (Reuters) – Weakened by scandals, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two difficult secondary elections on Thursday that are testing his ability to win his side.

Two weeks after surviving a vote of no confidence following “partygate” – a case of drunken parties on Downing Street during lockdowns – without a hitch, the prospect of the Conservatives losing two seats in Parliament risks heightening the climate of mistrust . within the majority.

The two elections are held in the wake of not-so-rosy matters for conservatives, in constituencies laden with political significance.

In Wakefield, in the north of England, it is a traditionally Labor stronghold delighted in December 2019 with the triumph of the Conservatives that is at stake. Opposition leader Keir Starmer said Wakefield “could be the birthplace of the next Labor government”.

The polls give a clear lead – of around twenty points – to Labor candidate Simon Lightwood, an official in the British public health service, the NHS.

The research was triggered by the resignation of the incumbent Imran Khan, sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexual assault on a 15-year-old boy. The electorate was continuously in Labor hands between 1932 and 2019.

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In Tiverton and Honiton, an electorate in southwest England that has been Conservative since its inception in 1997, voters choose Neil Parish’s successor. The 65-year-old deputy submitted his resignation.

The Liberal Democrats hope to win, as they did last December in North Shropshire, a very rural Conservative stronghold in northern England lost to a lobbying scandal.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 am local time, with voters able to vote until 10:00 pm (6:00 am to 9:00 pm GMT). Results are expected in the early hours of Friday.

A sign of unease and the scale of the task to regain confidence, Tiverton and Honiton candidate Helen Hurford twice declined to comment on Boris Johnson’s honesty during an interview with the left-wing newspaper The Guardian. The prime minister “thinks he’s honest,” she said.

Considered a winning machine after his parliamentary election triumph two and a half years ago on the promise of achieving Brexit, Boris Johnson, 58, saw that image crumble with the scandals that marked his tenure.

Remains, for now, theoretically sheltered, the current rules among conservatives preventing a new vote of no confidence before a year.

“Underrepresented”

Eager to show himself in business and on the international stage, Boris Johnson last week canceled a trip to the Conservatives in northern England to go to Kyiv for a second time, alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, strong in UK support in the face of Russian invasion.

On the home front, the context is unfavorable for the Johnson administration, with inflation at the highest level in 40 years – more than 9% – causing increasing social unrest, and the recent failure of a controversial attempt to deport migrants to Rwanda.

All after months of partygate soap opera to which “Carriegate” is now added in alleged repeated attempts by Boris Johnson to obtain paid positions for his wife Carrie.

“I don’t think people necessarily see the local candidate,” said Margaret Ward, a 49-year-old receptionist, recently in Wakefield. “I think they really look at what the government has done in general and take that into account,” she said.

Ryder Parfit, a retired attorney, thinks the vote will be contested on so much local issues, because we’ve been “underrepresented for the past two years.” But he also believes there will be “comments on the direction of the party”, “with everything that has happened”.

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