Boris Johnson braces for a by-election battering saying he won't quit

Boris Johnson braces for a by-election battering: Defiant PM insists he won’t quit even if the Tories lose BOTH Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton as polls close in Conservative-held seats following months of turmoil in Westminster

  • Voters went to the polls in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton today, with Tory hopes of victory low 
  • No government has failed to defend two by-election seats on the same day since John Major’s Tories in 1991
  • Mr Johnson will avoid flack from any defeat as he is is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe

A bullish Boris Johnson tonight insisted he will not quit whatever the result in crunch by-elections in Yorkshire and Devon, as the polls closed in votes widely expected to see the Tories lose to Labour and the Liberal Democrats

Voters in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton are expected to relieve Mr Johnson’s Tories of two of their seats, with party insiders privately warning they were set to lose both.

No government has failed to defend two by-election seats on the same day since 1991, when John Major was in No10.

Mr Johnson will not be around to take flack from any political fallout – is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe with his wife Carrie. 

But there are fears the expected grim results at home could spark a renewed Conservative revolt against his leadership, weeks after he was forced to face a vote of confidence from his own MPs.

Senior Conservatives figures were last night blaming Jeremy Hunt and other Tory plotters for wrecking the campaigns by trying to unseat Mr Johnson with the vote of no confidence, which he won 211 to 148.

Speaking to reporters while travelling to Rwanda, the Prime Minister insisted he was ‘very hopeful’ of a positive outcome from the two by-elections – but said it would be ‘crazy’ to quit over a bad mid-term result. 

A new poll tonight gave Labour an 11-point lead in the polls, up from six points a week previously. But the survey by Savanta ComRes was carried out before this week’s crippling rail strikes brought Britain to a halt. 

Mr Johnson will not be around to take flack from any political fallout – is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe with his wife Carrie.

Voters went to the polls in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton yesterday, with party insiders privately warning they were set to lose both.

Senior Conservatives figures were last night blaming Jeremy Hunt and other Tory plotters for wrecking the campaigns by trying to unseat Mr Johnson with a vote of no confidence.

A new poll tonight gave Labour an 11-point lead in the polls. But the survey by Savanta ComRes was carried out before this week’s crippling rail strikes brought Britain to a halt.

Where are by-elections happening today? 

WAKEFIELD 

Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being a Labour stronghold since the 1930s, but Labour is now hoping to take it back. 

Imran Ahmad Khan had a 3,300 majority but stood down as the local MP after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and jailed for 18 months.

Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised eyebrows by arguing last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan’s sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust GPs despite the crimes of mass murderer Harold Shipman. 

TIVERTON & HONITON 

Neil Parish, the Tory MP since 2010, resigned from the Devon seat after admitting he had watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats are the main challenger in this rural constituency, and are hoping to build on by-election wins in North Shropshire in December and Chesham and Amersham a year ago.

Victory for the Lib Dems would require overturning a 24,239 majority, but Conservatives fear a defeat is all-but inevitable as voters deliver a mid-term message. 

The Prime Minister urged voters to ‘stick up for British food and farming’ by supporting Tory Helen Hurford, a former head teacher turned beautician.

In a video shared on social media on Wednesday, Mr Johnson appeared alongside the candidate on a farm, saying the party was working to protect ‘our fantastic food and farming industry and ‘amazing agricultural sector’.

 

Mr Johnson faces the fallout from those strikes, as well as general unrest of the rising cost of living – inflation hit 9.1 per cent this week. 

He is also embroiled in a fight with human rights campaigners over his attempts to send migrants arriving in the UK to Rwanda.

Speaking in the nation’s capital, Kigali, where he is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHoGM), he said: ‘I’m going to be watching the results with interests but always full of optimism and buoyancy but most seasoned political observers know that by-elections in mid-term are never necessarily easy for any government,’ he said.

Asked if he would quit if he lost both seats, he said: ‘Are you crazy?’

When questioned whether he would take responsibility personally, he told reporters: ‘Come on, it was only a year ago that we won the Hartlepool by-election.’

But Lib Dem Treasury spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: ‘Never in the history of British politics has a majority this big been overturned in a by-election. We’ve said throughout this campaign this is a huge mountain to climb.

‘However, if the Conservative Party lose significant numbers of votes tonight in one of their safest seats in the country, there will be countless Conservative MPs looking over their shoulders nervously tomorrow.’

Both by-elections today were triggered by misconduct by the former Tory MPs.

The polls are seen as a key test for Mr Johnson’s leadership. Wakefield, where the Conservatives were defending a majority of less than 3,500, has been seen as a lost cause for weeks.

But in Tiverton and Honiton, where the Conservatives had a majority of more than 24,000 at the last election, the Tories were last night said to be ‘neck and neck’ with the Lib-Dems.

A senior Tory source said the actions of the Tory rebels had exacerbated what was already a difficult contest in Devon.

The by-election was called following the resignation of Neil Parish, after he admitted watching pornography on his mobile phone while sat in the House of Commons chamber. 

‘Tiverton and Honiton was always going to be a tough battle because we are mid-term and there is residual anger over Partygate where the media have been having a field day. People see it as a way to punish us without a change of Government,’ the source said.

‘But the overlay of division has been massively unhelpful. It was raised on the doorstep time and again – people were saying if even his own MPs won’t vote for him, why should we?

‘The really damaging thing is that it came just as the postal ballots were being sent out, where we would normally hope for a decent showing.

‘If we have lost the postals then we have lost. It’s all incredibly unhelpful and totally self-inflicted.’ 

In Wakefield, a former industrial area in West Yorkshire, ex-Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan stood down after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and jailed for 18 months.

Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being a Labour stronghold since the 1930s, but Labour has battled to take it back.

Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised eyebrows by arguing last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan’s sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust GPs despite the crimes of mass murderer Harold Shipman. 

In Devon’s Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, the Tory MP since 2010, resigned after admitting he had watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats are the main challenger in the rural south-western constituency, where they were hoping former soldier Richard Foord will recreate by-election wins in North Shropshire in December and Chesham and Amersham a year ago.

The Prime Minister urged voters to ‘stick up for British food and farming’ by supporting Tory Helen Hurford, a former head teacher turned beautician.

In a video shared on social media on Wednesday, Mr Johnson appeared alongside the candidate on a farm, saying the party was working to protect ‘our fantastic food and farming industry and ‘amazing agricultural sector’.

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