UK’s Johnson faces test in 2 special parliamentary elections

LONDON — Polls opened on Thursday in Britain for two special elections that could deal a new blow to scandal-ridden Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Wakefield in northern England and the southwest constituency of Tiverton and Honiton are both electing replacements for Conservative lawmakers who have resigned in discontent. A person convicted of sexual assault; the other was caught viewing pornography in the chamber of the House of Commons – an episode he explained by saying he was looking for pictures of tractors on his phone.

Failure in either district would be a setback for the prime minister’s party. Losing both would increase anxiety among staunch Conservatives, who were already worried that the bellicose but erratic and divisive Johnson was no longer an electoral asset.

“For the Conservatives to lose an election on Thursday could be seen as regrettable,” University of Strathclyde pollster John Curtice wrote in the Independent. “However, to lose two people looks like carelessness – which is a sign of a government in danger of losing its constituency.”

Johnson was 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda when voters went to the polls.

He told reporters he would not resign if the Conservatives lost both elections, responding to the suggestion with: “Are you crazy?”

“Ruling parties often don’t win by-elections, especially not midterms,” ​​he said. That’s just reality.”

The electoral tests come as Britain faces its worst cost of living crisis in a generation, with Russia’s war in Ukraine squeezing energy and food supplies at a time Consumer demand spiked while the coronavirus pandemic receded.

Johnson won a large majority in the 2019 general election by keeping the Conservative Party’s traditional voters – affluent, older and concentrated in the south of England – and winning new voters. in the poorer, post-industrial northern towns, where many residents felt belittled by the government for decades,

Thursday’s election is a test on both sides. Rural Tiverton and Honiton have voted Conservative for generations, while Wakefield is a northern district that the Tories won in 2019 from the centre-left Labor Party.

Opinion polls show Labor is likely to win Wakefield back, which would be a boost for a party that has been out of office nationally since 2010. Labor leader Keir Starmer said victory in that “could be the birthplace of the next Labor government.”

Polls show the race in Tiverton closely between the Conservatives and the centre-right Liberal Democrats. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, said residents were “fed up with Boris Johnson’s lies and neglect”.

“Families are facing skyrocketing gas bills and food prices, and the government’s only answer is to force them to keep raising taxes,” Davey said.

Even if the Conservatives lost both seats, Johnson retained a majority in Parliament. But failure would further erode his crumbling power among his own legislators.

Accusations of his judgment and ethics have plagued the British prime minister for months, culminating in a scandal over parties held in government buildings during the anti-virus shutdown. coronavirus in the UK.

Johnson is one of 83 people fined by police for attending parties, making him the first prime minister to be found guilty of breaking the law while in office. A civil servant’s report on the “partisan” scandal said Johnson was responsible for “failures in leadership and judgment” that had created a culture of rule-breaking in government.

He survived a vote of no confidence by his own party this month but was weakened after 41% of Conservative lawmakers voted to remove him. Johnson could face another rebellion in the coming months.

Polls in the two counties close at 10pm (2100GMT), with results expected early Friday.

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