TOP STORIES In two elections, in the North and in the...

In two elections, in the North and in the South, Boris Johnson risks a sharp rebuke


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WAKEFIELD, England. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has yet to campaign in the majestic but faded West Yorkshire town of Wakefield, though his Conservative Party risks losing a highly symbolic seat in Thursday’s parliamentary elections. But that doesn’t mean it’s not in people’s minds—or in their language.

“Boris Johnson was convicted of breaking the law. He threw parties where the laws are made. This is massive hypocrisy,” said Jordan Rendle, 31, who had his hair cut by local barber Andrew Proust.

“We are all human — 99.9 percent of the people in the country didn’t follow the rules,” Mr. Proust replied, and his shrug was reflected in the mirror.

“Okay, stop cutting now!” Mr. Rendle snorted in mock outrage when he realized that his barber was supporting the Prime Minister.

Even in races where Mr. Johnson does not vote, he manages to be an all-consuming, often polarizing figure. While this election, along with those in the southwest of England, should fill the seats vacated by two legislators whose careers have been ruined by their own scandals, the race is also a sort of referendum on a controversial prime minister.

How badly has it been affected by the noise from the illegal parties thrown on Downing Street during the pandemic?

If the Conservatives were to lose both seats, which is quite possible, it would inflict further damage on the electoral record of success that helped Mr. Johnson weather the turmoil – including a no-confidence vote in his own party – that would have led to his failure. most politicians. The double defeat could spark another mutiny among the 148 rebellious Conservative MPs who just two weeks ago voted to remove him.

“If this election were lost on a grand scale, I don’t see why a significant number of these MPs would not demand another vote of no confidence,” said Tim Bale, professor of political science at Queen Mary University of London. “By-elections have a nasty habit of exacerbating a common problem.”

Polls show the Conservatives are on track to lose Wakefield to the main opposition Labor Party, less than three years after they won a landslide victory in Johnson’s 2019 election. This will give Labor back the seat they have held for nearly 90 years and restore the bricks of the party’s “red wall” – areas in England equivalent to the Rust Belt, former industrial cities and towns that were once Labor strongholds.

Elections in Tiverton and Honiton, in the rural Tory hinterland to the south, are more like a lottery. There, the centrist Liberal Democrats hope to dislodge the Conservatives from the seat they have held since the district’s creation in 1997 and won by a wide margin in 2019.

Incumbent President Neil Parish resigned in April after he admitted to watching pornography on his phone while sitting in the House of Commons. In Wakefield, conservative Imran Ahmad Khan was imprisoned on charges of sexually abusing a teenager.

The grim circumstances that called for these elections to be held out of the year make the Conservative Party especially vulnerable. This adds to the perception of what critics call “Thorian sleaze”. But there is a deeper disillusionment with politics in Wakefield, where a strike at one of the bus companies has led to a drop in business in shops and restaurants.

“Politicians always make promises and then they always break them,” said Kristin Lee, 82, a retired fashion designer, strolling through one of Wakefield’s nearly deserted open-air malls. She said she did not plan to vote on Thursday because neither the Labor nor the Conservative candidate would change anything.

Given the high stakes, the campaign has been surprisingly subdued. Labor Party candidate Simon Lightwood, who has a solid lead in the polls, is avoiding unrest. His conservative opponent Nadeem Ahmed has been silent since he gave ill-fated interview with The Daily Telegraph last week, in which he called his predecessor, Mr. Khan, a “bad apple” that should not cause voters to revolt against all conservatives.

Mr Ahmed compared the case to Harold Shipman, the notorious English doctor and serial killer who is believed to have killed 250 of his patients as a general practitioner before committing suicide in Wakefield prison in 2004. “Have we stopped trusting general practitioners? ” Mr Ahmed told the Telegraph. “No, we still trust GPs and we know he was a bad guy.”

Mr Johnson is keeping his distance for now. On Friday, he skipped a conference of Conservative lawmakers in the nearby city of Doncaster, instead making a return visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

For some local politicians, this was an eloquent sign.

“The Conservatives don’t think it’s worth fighting for,” said David Herdson, who is running for the independent Yorkshire party’s nomination. “Labour thinks the election is in the bag and they don’t want to make any mistakes.”

Mr Herdson, 48, who left the Conservative Party over what he called Mr Johnson’s “reckless strategy” to leave the European Union, is focusing on local issues such as affordable housing and improved public transport. He hopes for a decent place in the top five of the 15 candidates. But as he knocks on doors, he says he’s faced with “massive cynicism toward the political class as a whole.”

Labor Party spokeswoman Phoebe Plomer said Mr Lightwood will spend the last days of the campaign telling voters that by defeating the Tories in Wakefield they have a chance to remove Mr Johnson from power. Under Conservative Party rules, Mr. Johnson is not subject to another no-confidence vote for at least a year, although the rules can always be changed.

Either way, losing at Wakefield will have a lot of symbolic meaning. In 2019, the Conservatives broke through the red wall with the force of Mr Johnson’s promise to “make Brexit happen.” The message appealed to disillusioned Labor voters, many of whom voted to leave the European Union in 2016. It was hailed as one of the most significant political changes in British politics since the free market revolution orchestrated by one of his conservative predecessors, Margaret Thatcher. .

But instead of being revolutionary, Mr. Johnson’s leadership has been chaotic. After a no-confidence vote, his ethics adviser resigned in desperation last week, and parliament is still scrutinizing whether the prime minister lied to lawmakers. On top of that, it’s a declining cost of living and a potential recession in the coming months.

“There is a general consensus that Boris is a Heineken politician who can appeal to Labor voters,” Mr. Bale said. alluding to British advertising in which the lager’s brand promised that it “refreshes those parts that other beers can’t reach.”

“But his appeal is actually somewhat limited,” Mr. Bale said, “and he has become more of a liability than an asset.”

Geoff Hayes, 72, who once worked in the now closed coal mines surrounding Wakefield, said Johnson had sold out many Labor voters with the promise that Brexit would free the UK from the regulatory shackles of the European Union. However, they now realized that the trucks were in fact queuing for miles in the Channel ports, where they faced delays due to bureaucratic customs red tape.

“A lot of people thought that Brexit would change everything,” Mr Hayes said, looking at peregrine falcons nesting on the steeple of Wakefield Cathedral. “But in the end,” he said, “the Tories only care about the super-rich.”

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