More trouble for Prime Minister Boris Johnson

A photo released by the British Parliament shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesturing as he speaks during the weekly session of Prime Ministerial Affairs (PMQs) at the House of Commons in London, June 22, 2022.-AFP
A photo released by the British Parliament shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesturing as he speaks during the weekly session of Prime Ministerial Affairs (PMQs) at the House of Commons in London, June 22, 2022.-AFP

LONDON: Voters go to the polls on Thursday in two closely monitored by-elections in the UK that risk putting renewed pressure on obsessed Prime Minister Boris Johnson after months of scandal and failure.

His ruling Conservatives are believed to lose both contests, for seats in parliament Tiverton and Honiton in south-west England and Wakefield in the north, after both Tory MPs shamefully resigned.

Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish resigned after he admitted to watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons, while Wakefield’s Imran Ahmad Khan was in jail for sexually assaulting a teenager.

The votes come just weeks after Johnson narrowly survived an attempt by his own MPs to oust him from the post of party leader and prime minister.

In the June 6 election among Conservative MPs, more than 40% of the parliamentary party left him, leaving him severely weakened and struggling to reset his turbulent term in power.

Johnson spent months fighting for his survival after a series of controversies, including the saga of “Partygate,” led many Tories to wonder if he should stay in the lead.

Various opinion polls have shown that the public thinks he lied about the events that broke Covid’s isolation in Downing Street and that he should resign.

Even before the controversy erupted in December last year, the 58-year-old Brexit architect suffered the loss of two once-secure seats in last year’s by-elections.

He then achieved eerie results in the local elections in May.

Defeats in the true blue Tory heart of Tiverton and Honiton, and in Wakefield, which Johnson abducted in 2019 from the main opposition Labor Party for the first time since the 1930s, could again call into question his position.

‘Madness’

Parish, who described his actions as an indefensible moment of “complete madness”, won more than 24,000 votes in Tiverton and Honiton in 2019.

There, the small opposition Liberal Democrats are hoping to win a seat in rural Devon after they annulled an equally large majority in 2021 in two other historically safe Tory seats.

Wakefield, near Leeds, was one of dozens of so-called Labor seats in the “red wall” that Johnson occupied in 2019 with a promise to “complete Brexit” and address obvious regional economic inequalities.

But now he could go back in part because of Johnson’s declining popularity.

“As far as I’m concerned, everything is better than the Tory party – especially Boris Johnson,” longtime Labor voter Stephen, a 61-year-old catering worker, told AFP this week.

‘Partygate’ and prices

The polls come with Britain plagued by 40-year highs in inflation and a cost-of-living crisis that has led to rising prices for everyday basic goods such as energy, petrol and food.

This week’s railway workers ’strikes – some of the largest seen in Britain in decades – added a sense of crisis.

Some in Wakefield said they expected it to burden the minds of voters as much as the saga of parties on Downing Street.

“I think‘ Partygate ’will affect people,” said David, a retired medical adviser.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (CL) speaks at the start of a government meeting in Downing Street in London on June 21, 2022. -AFP
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (CL) speaks at the start of a government meeting in Downing Street in London on June 21, 2022. -AFP

“But I think the main thing we’re going to be affected by is being affected by inflation and rising cost of living in terms of heating, energy and the impact on food and transportation prices.”

Competition there also carries risks for Labor, who must secure seats like Wakefield if they want to win the next general election by 2024.

Labor leader Keir Starmer, a sober former lawyer trying to rebuild the center-left party after the 2019 defeat, has been criticized for failing to connect with voters, especially in his former heart.

Anything less than a convincing victory in Wakefield will likely be seen by his critics as further proof of his inability to complete reconstruction and return the party to power after 12 years of opposition.

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