LONDON. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party lost two strategic seats in Thursday’s elections, dealing a devastating blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and raising new doubts about his scandal-ridden leadership.
Voters in Wakefield, a faded industrial town in West Yorkshire, and in Tiverton and Honiton, the rural south-west of England that is the heart of the party, pushed the Conservative Party out of the seats vacated after lawmakers were toppled by their own scandals. .
In Wakefield, the Labor Party won an expected victory by a comfortable margin over the Conservatives, according to results released early Friday. In the south, which was seen as a toss-up, the Liberal Democratic Party overcame a large Conservative majority in the last election to win the seat, also by a solid margin.
The double defeat is a scathing rebuke to Mr Johnson, who survived a vote of no confidence in his party earlier this month sparked by a scandal over illegal parties held on Downing Street during the coronavirus pandemic. This is likely to reignite talk of another no-confidence vote, although under current party rules, Mr. Johnson is not expected to face another challenge until next June.
The defeats exposed the vulnerability of the Conservatives on two fronts: the so-called ‘Red Wall’, the industrial north of England, where Mr Johnson destroyed a traditional Labor stronghold in the 2019 general election, and in the southwest, a traditional Tory stronghold often referred to as the ‘Blue Wall’. “.
As bleak as the Conservatives’ electoral outlook looks, it could worsen further next year as inflation runs rampant, interest rates rise and the UK is almost certainly heading into recession.
In Tiverton, where the Liberal Democrats won 53% of the vote to 38% of the Conservatives, the winning candidate, Richard Ford, said the result “shocked British politics.”
Although the political contours of the two districts are very different, they share a common element: a Conservative MP who resigned in disgrace. In Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish resigned in April after he admitted to watching pornography on his phone while in Parliament. Imran Ahmad Khan was sentenced to 18 months in prison in Wakefield in May on charges of sexually abusing a teenager.
Mr Khan’s legal troubles, including numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure a secret hearing, resulted in Wakefield not having a seated representative in Parliament for two years. Analysts said this left townspeople deeply frustrated, not only with Mr. Khan, but with politics in general.
“This whole unfortunate situation has to do with a broken political system that ignores voters and their wishes, and politicians who don’t do the right thing or don’t serve the people who brought them to power,” said Gavin Murray, editor of the Wakefield Express. “This moment is reinforced and exaggerated by the behavior of Boris and Downing Street.”
Although few expected the Conservatives to hold on to the Wakefield seat, the scale of Labor’s victory suggested that they could successfully compete against the Conservatives. in the next general election.
The massive swing in Tiverton and Honiton, where the Conservatives hoped to hold on, sobered Mr. Johnson even more.
The surprise victory of the Liberal Democrats by a landslide in one of the safest constituencies of the Conservative Party has shown that even the most loyal Conservative voters have become disillusioned with the ongoing scandals and ongoing dramas around the Prime Minister.
Last year, the Conservatives were stunned by the loss of seats in Chesham and Amersham, an affluent area in northwest London. Analysts say this is indicative of a backlash against Mr. Johnson’s divisive policies and tax and spending policies.
The government has promised to “raise the level” and stimulate the economy in the north of England, a reward for red-walled voters. But some analysts see a significant risk of splitting support for traditional conservatives in the south.
The Liberal Democrats specialize in fighting over local issues in by-elections. They have a long history of achieving unexpected results, and their success in Tiverton and Honiton bolstered the party’s strong showing in May’s local elections, where they also emerged as big winners.
In the days leading up to the two elections, both Labor and the Liberal Democrats concentrated their resources in constituencies where they had more chances to win, each giving the other a freer run.
Vince Cable, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that instead of any formal cooperation between the two parties, there was “a tacit understanding that trusted the voters to get a reasonable result.”
As symbolic as the defeats, Mr. Cable said, “it won’t hurt Johnson much in the short term,” both because the prime minister recently won a vote of confidence among his legislators and because the defeat was “at a price.”
“Since the economic outlook for the next 12 to 18 months is certainly dire, it wouldn’t surprise me if Johnson does something very risky and goes into the fall election,” Mr. Cable said at a briefing on the eve of the election.
Kenneth Baker, former chairman of the Conservative Party, said the defeat in Tiverton and Honiton would underline that “the position of the Conservative Party is rather bleak”, which won an 80-seat majority in the 2019 general election.
“There is a huge opportunity for the Liberal Democrats right now because neither the Labor nor the Conservative parties have any vision or strategy at all,” said Mr Baker, a member of the House of Lords. Mr. Johnson, he added, is now too controversial a figure to successfully lead the party.
“If the Conservative Party continues to be led by Boris,” he said, “the conservatives have no chance of winning an absolute majority.”