Tiverton is one of those quaint towns that the countryside in the county of Devon abounds in. This constituency is true Tory blue. For a hundred years, Tiverton has consistently voted for Conservative Party candidates.
But even in this quiet town it bubbles and broods, at the midterm elections. The anger over the lockdown drills in Downing Street is still palpable. That frustration only grew more when Tiverton Conservative MP Neil Parish himself became involved in a scandal.
Parish resigned after female colleagues caught him watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons. Today, the residents of Tiverton choose his successor. The Conservatives are threatening to lose the seat to the opposition Liberal Democrats. That would be a stunt of the highest order in normal times, but it is not unthinkable now.
Many residents of Tiverton, including loyal conservative voters, have therefore had it all with Prime Minister Johnson. “I don’t think Boris will survive the end of the year. I hope not either, because he doesn’t deserve this job,” said voter Ian McCauley. “Whatever you think of his ideas, his behavior alone makes him unfit for the highest office.”
It is not the only election taking place in the UK today. 400 kilometers to the north, the residents of the city of Wakefield also elect a new member of the lower house. The incumbent Conservative MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was expelled from the party, after he was convicted of sexual assault of a minor boy.
Wakefield is an old industrial town in the county of Yorkshire, which has never fully recovered from the closure of its textile factories and coal mines. This was one of those typical Red Wall districts in the middle and north of England that Johnson managed to win so surprisingly in 2019.
From time immemorial, this workers ‘ City was a red stronghold where Labor always had the say. But Brexit turned everything upside down. In 2016, two-thirds of Wakefield voters voted for Brexit. Three years later, the Conservatives won the Lower House Elections here. It was the first time since 1931 that Johnson’s party managed to drag into this constituency.
In 2022, the Tories are in danger of losing Wakefield again. Here, too, the anger and frustration are palpable. Not so much about partygate, but rather about the growing poverty and sharply increased prices for food, electricity and fuel. Especially in impoverished cities like Wakefield, the cost of living crisis is hitting hard. According to opinion polls, the Conservatives are heading for a heavy defeat in Wakefield.
So the danger for Boris Johnson comes from two sides: he is in danger of losing voters in rural towns like Tiverton in the south where the traditional conservative backers live; and in constituencies in northern England like Wakefield, where the Tories had tapped new voters.
What does this mean for Boris Johnson? The loss of two seats does not matter so much for his parliamentary clout. He holds a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons. In addition, the results of by-elections are usually a poor gauge of the chances of the ruling party in the Lower House Elections, which must be held somewhere in the next two years.
The midterm elections could not come at a worse time. After partygate, most Britons want Johnson to step down, according to poll after poll. It is a mess in the Conservative group, where a few weeks ago a significant minority voted for a motion of no confidence. At the same time, dark clouds are gathering over the UK economy. According to estimates by the Bank of England, inflation will reach 11 percent this year.
“These midterm elections highlight how weak the Prime Minister’s authority is,” said Tim Bale, a political scientist at Queen Mary University of London. He does not expect the loss of these two constituencies to lead to Johnson’s immediate resignation. But: “this will lead to growing doubts about his premiership.”