Boris Johnson faces a dual electoral challenge. Two constituencies that the Conservatives won in 2019 will elect new MPs on the same day. One is in southern England and the other is in the north, so what’s happening in these two very different seats?
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Today – the two by-elections that could cause another headache for Boris Johnson.
Next week, on Thursday the 23rd of June, two by-elections will be held in England, in two very different constituencies – Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, and Tiverton and Honiton, in Devon.
And the results could turn out to be crucial for one person in particular – Boris Johnson.
Both by-elections are happening as a result of scandals. Wakefield is going to the polls because the former Conservative MP, Imran Ahmed Khan, was found guilty of sexual assault, forcing him to step down.
And the former MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, had to quit after he was found to have watched porn in the House of Commons – something he claimed to have done in error while attempting to look at pictures of tractors online.
Now usually, by-elections aren’t that important. Given the Conservative party’s large majority in the House of Commons, they currently make little difference to the overall arithmetic, and generally do little more than feed into a political narrative.
But both of these votes are significant as they are seen as a major test of the Conservative Party in the wake of the Sue Gray report, and the subsequent vote of confidence in Boris Johnson.
The Partygate scandal has reportedly come up on the doorstep in both constituencies, with people angry that the Prime Minister didn’t follow the rules he subjected the rest of the country to.
Reporter: “So how do you feel about the no confidence vote?”
Interviewee: “I’m very happy about it because I do not have any confidence in him at all.”Channel4 News
Held six years to the day of the Brexit vote, these by-elections could arguably be seen as a referendum on the prime minister himself.
The other reason that they’re important is that each by-election poses a very different type of challenge for the Conservative government, and they symbolise the dual threat it could face at the next General Election. This is because the seats are not just different geographically, but also attract a very different kind of Conservative voter.
Wakefield was part of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ – a term used for constituencies that, for decades, were always Labour. A large part of Boris Johnson’s success in the 2019 election was winning seats that had historically never voted Conservative
“We were talking earlier about the red wall. well that has been breached there’s literally a blue path all the way from the west coast all the way to the east coast past Yorkshire.”BBC News
Wakefield, the seat now back up for grabs, was held by the Labour Party since 1932, until the Conservatives won the seat at the last general election. Many in the party think Boris Johnson’s electoral magic won seats like that for the Tories. And yet, less than three years into his Premiership, his spell may be about to be broken.
The majority in Wakefield at the last election was slim – around three-and-a-half thousand votes. And a poll last week put Labour 20 points ahead in the seat, meaning it is likely to change hands. If that was replicated across the Red Wall, the Conservatives would likely lose most of the seats that gave them such a hefty majority.
The challenge in Tiverton and Honiton is different, but no less risky for Boris Johnson.
It has returned a Conservative MP ever since its creation in 1997.
“Unlike Wakefield this is traditionally a safe tory seat. This isn’t so-called Red Wall territory.”Channel4 News
Being rural and in the South-West, the electorate that makes up the constituency is very different from that of Wakefield. They’re the more traditional Conservative voters who have always tended to back the party – the people the Tories have always thought they could rely on.
At the last election, Boris Johnson broadened the Conservative Party’s coalition by winning over Red Wall seats and retaining southern, traditionally Conservative seats like this one. But the government is finding it difficult to keep both camps on side. And suddenly seats like Tiverton and Honiton are vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats.
“So there will be a by-election in Tiverton and Honiton and I believe the Liberal Democrats can be a real challenger in that.”Sky News
While the Conservative majority in Tiverton and Honiton is around eight times larger than in Wakefield, the Lib Dems have had form recently when it comes to demolishing big Tory majorities.
Last year they took both Amersham and North Shropshire from the Conservatives in by-elections. Tiverton and Honiton would require a bigger swing than either of those constituencies, so a defeat there would indicate a serious problem for the party.
“The vote in favour of having confidence in Boris Johnson as leader 211 votes, the vote against was 148 votes. therefore i can announce that the parliamentary party does have confidence.”Parliament
Boris Johnson survived a vote of confidence from his own MPs – but only just. It was the worst result for any sitting Conservative Prime Minister who has faced one.
And it’s worth remembering that when Theresa May won her vote of confidence by a bigger share than Boris Johnson, she was still gone within six months.
If Tory MPs feel that his presence in Downing Street is exacerbating the threat in the South from the Lib Dems and in the North from Labour, then the number of them who have confidence in him as leader could drop further.
The by-elections are being held on the same day the Leave side won the Brexit vote in 2016 – a victory some give Boris Johnson credit for.
Could it be that just six years after he convinced the country to leave the EU, and less than three since he won the biggest Conservative majority in years, that two little constituencies in two different parts of England could topple him from power?
Today’s story was written by James Wilson.