Weakened by scandals, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two tough by-elections on Thursday, testing his ability to win his side.
Two weeks after surviving a no-confidence vote in the wake of “partygate” – a case of drunken parties in Downing Street during the confinements – without fuss, the prospect for the Tories of losing two seats in Parliament risks accentuating the climate of mistrust within the majority.
Both elections are being held on the back of bleak business for the Tories, in politically charged constituencies.
In Wakefield, in the north of England, it is a traditionally Labor stronghold delighted in December 2019 when the Tories' triumph hung in the balance. Hoping to reclaim that section of the “red wall” that crumbled in the last general election, Opposition Leader Keir Starmer has claimed that 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 employee of the British public health service, the NHS.
The poll was triggered by the resignation of incumbent MP Imran Khan, sentenced to 18 months in prison for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy. The constituency was continuously in Labor hands between 1932 and 2019.
In Tiverton and Honiton, a conservative South West England constituency since its creation in 1997, voters choose Neil Parish's successor. The 65-year-old MP had submitted his resignation after admitting that he had watched pornography on his phone in Parliament.
The ex-farmer by profession explained that he came across the adult site while searching tractors, before returning to it, in “a moment of madness”.
The Liberal Democrats hope to win, as they did last December in North Shropshire, a very rural conservative stronghold in the north of England, lost after a lobbying scandal.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time, with voters able to vote until 10 p.m. (6 a.m. to 9 p.m. GMT). Results are expected by dawn Friday.
Sign of the unease and the scale of the task to regain confidence, the candidate for Tiverton and Honiton, Helen Hurford, twice refused to comment on the honesty of Boris Johnson during an interview with the left-wing daily The Guardian. The Prime Minister “thinks he is honest,” she said.
Considered a winning machine after his victory in the legislative elections two and a half years ago under the promise of achieve Brexit, Boris Johnson, 58, has seen this image crumble with the scandals that punctuate his mandate.
He remains theoretically safe for now, with current Tory rules preventing another vote of no confidence for another year.
Eager to show himself in business and on the international scene, Boris Johnson canceled a trip to the conservatives in the north of England last week to go to Kyiv for the second time, alongside the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, strong in the support of the United Kingdom in the face of the Russian invasion.
On the domestic front, the context is unfavorable for the Johnson government, with inflation at its highest for 40 years – exceeding 9% – which has provoked more and more social unrest, and the recent failure of a controversial attempt to deport migrants to Rwanda.
All after months of partygate drama to which is now added the “Carriegate” on supposed repeated attempts by Boris Johnson to obtain posts paid 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 overall and take it into consideration,” she told AFP.
Ryder Parfit, a retired lawyer, considers that the election will be played out both on local issues, because we have been “under-represented in the past two years”. But he also believes that there will be “remarks on the direction of the party”, “with everything that has happened”.