Tory strategists prepared for double defeat in midterm elections

Written by Javed Iqbal

The Conservatives are ready to lose two parliamentary by-elections, according to senior party strategists, in a row that could lead to a renewed setback against Boris Johnson.

Voters go to the polls on Thursday in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, in by-elections prompted by the resignation of Tory MPs.

It will be a chance for people to give one judgment of the Prime Minister’s conduct in the partygate scandal.

In April, Johnson became the first acting British prime minister to be found guilty of committing a criminal act after police fined him for attending a birthday party in Downing Street during a Covid-19 lockdown.

This month, Johnson survived a fierce vote of no confidence from conservative MPs as 41 percent of the parliamentary party refused to support him.

In Wakefield, the Tories expect to lose to Labor. Wakefield was once a part of Labor’s so-called “red wall” of heart areas in the north of England, but the Conservatives made a significant inroad in the 2019 parliamentary elections under Johnson’s leadership.

The Tories won Wakefield by a majority of 3,358 in 2019, but in April, Conservative MP Imran Khan was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and subsequently resigned.

In Tiverton, the Tories face a challenge from the Liberal Democrats, who are seeking to take advantage of Johnson’s declining approval ratings.

The Conservatives won the seat by a majority of 24,239 in 2019, but Tory MP Neil Parish withdrew after admitting to watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons.

A Tory strategist working on the two midterm elections said the Liberal Democrats were on track to win Tiverton by a “substantial” majority and that Labor would secure Wakefield, albeit by a smaller margin.

The strategist added that the by-elections were prompted by scandals surrounding the incumbent Tory MPs and it was natural that the party would lose. “Middle-class governments do not win by-elections either,” he said.

Loss of one or both middle choices is likely to lead to renewed questions about Johnson’s management, although the rules of the Conservative Party say he can not face another no-confidence vote in 12 months.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, right, with candidate Richard Foord outside the party’s headquarters in Honiton © Geoff Caddick / AFP / Getty Images

A lawmaker who refused to support the prime minister in this month’s no-confidence vote said: “We want proof that Boris is no longer popular. People will urge him to stop on Friday.”

Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said Wakefield “should be an easy victory for Labor” given the party’s performance in the May local elections and the slim Tory majority.

Curtice added: “Tiverton and Honiton should be tougher for the Liberal Democrats than Wakefield is for Labor… The key test will be whether disgruntled Tory voters are willing to use Lib Dems as a protest vote.”

Sir Ed Davey, Lib Dem leader, said his party could be “on the brink of a historic victory” in Tiverton, adding “it is now neck and neck between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and every vote will count”.

Some Conservative MPs who have been campaigning in Tiverton said the party might be able to hold on.

A minister said Tory support held up better in Tiverton than in the North Shropshire midterm elections last December, when The Lib Dems took the seat of the Conservatives.

But another Tory MP said there was “no chance” the party would win in Tiverton.

Senior Labor figures expressed optimism about winning back Wakefield, but warned against a large majority.

“It’s going strong, but we’re very, very concerned about complacency and turnout,” said a member of Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet. “Everything’s over [a majority of] 1,000 will be a huge achievement. ”

Another shadow cabinet member said: “Anything less than a majority of 5,000 promises badly to win back the Red Wall.”

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Javed Iqbal

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