British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could this week lose two parliamentary seats that once illustrated the widespread support he enjoyed, showing his declining popularity, a trend that could push his party to find a way to remove him.
His Conservative Party is contesting two by-elections this Thursday: one in Tiverton and Honiton, a deeply conservative corner of Devon, in the southwest of England, and another in the former industrial area of Wakefield, in the north of England, which in 2019 voted for his party for the first time in 90 years.
Defeat in either place could further dent Johnson’s reputation as a vote-winner, and see MPs fearful for his future attempt to move against him despite giving him a breathing space by calling and losing a motion to censure against him earlier this month. Johnson secured the largest Conservative majority in three decades in the 2019 national election by upending conventional British politics and winning both the Conservatives’ traditional southern heartlands and the more industrial parts of central and northern England.
But now, support for the party is weakening in both areas, and it could prompt some Conservative MPs to try to reduce the 12-month grace period between calling no-confidence motions. Some 41% of Johnson’s MPs voted to impeach him this month. The by-elections were called for the resignation of prominent Conservative lawmakers: one admitted to viewing pornography in parliament and another was found guilty of sexually abusing a teenager.
GLM spoke to at least 30 people in both locations, asking them the same questions about political areas. While Devon voters focused on partygate, the Government’s Rwandan deportation policy and Brexit, in Wakefield they were more focused on the cost of living crisis.
Tiverton has voted Conservative in every election for almost a century, and in 2019 the party won a majority of nearly 25,000 votes.
“I would have voted Conservative if it wasn’t for the situation with the immigration flights to Rwanda. That has made a huge difference to me and my husband,” said Lizzie Bowman, 58, describing it as showing ” inordinate behaviour”.
Several Tiverton voters who had voted Conservative indicated they were unlikely to vote at all, while those opposed to the Conservatives tactically voted for the option most likely to eliminate them. Although there are few reliable polls in Tiverton and Wakefield, bookmakers say the Conservatives are likely to lose both seats.
In Wakefield, a town about four hours’ drive north of London, voters said the government needed to do more to help people cope with the highest inflation in three decades. But one aspect working in Johnson’s favor could be the almost unanimous lack of enthusiasm for Labor leader Keir Starmer.
Geoff Hook, 57, who works in arts education, said he recently gave up his membership in the Labor Party after nearly four decades because he felt he no longer understood what it stood for.
“Labor seems to lack direction at the moment,” he said. “Starmer doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, so he has a hard time connecting with people.”