Weakened by scandals, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two difficult by-elections on Thursday, which are testing his ability to win his side.

Two weeks after surviving a no-confidence vote in the wake of “partygate” – a case of drunken parties in Downing Street during the confinements – without fuss, the prospect for the Tories of losing two seats in Parliament risks accentuating the climate of distrust within the majority.

The two elections are held following less than rosy affairs for the Conservatives, in constituencies heavy with political meaning.

In Wakefield, in the north of England, it is a traditionally Labor stronghold delighted in December 2019 during the triumph of the Tories which is at stake. Hoping to take over this section of the “red wall” collapsed during the last general elections, the leader opposition leader Keir Starmer claimed that Wakefield “could be the birthplace of the next Labor government”.

The polls give a clear lead – of around twenty points – to the Labor candidate Simon Lightwood, an employee of the British public health service, the NHS.

The poll was triggered by the resignation of incumbent Imran Khan, sentenced to 18 months in prison for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy. The constituency was continuously in Labor hands between 1932 and 2019.

In Tiverton and Honiton, a conservative South West England constituency since its creation in 1997, voters choose Neil Parish’s successor. The 65-year-old MP had tendered his resignation after admitting he had watched pornography on his phone in Parliament.

This ex-farmer by profession had explained that he had come across the site for adults while looking for tractors, before returning there, in “a moment of madness”.

The Liberal Democrats hope to win, as they did last December in North Shropshire, a very rural conservative bastion in northern England, lost after a lobbying scandal.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time, with voters able to vote until 10 p.m. (6 a.m. to 9 p.m. GMT). The results are expected at dawn on Friday.

Sign of the unease and the scale of the task to regain confidence, the candidate for Tiverton and Honiton, Helen Hurford, twice refused to comment on the honesty of Boris Johnson during an interview with the left-wing daily The Guardian. The prime minister “thinks he’s honest,” she said.

Considered a winning machine after his triumph in the legislative elections two and a half years ago under the promise of achieving Brexit, Boris Johnson, 58, has seen this image crumble with the scandals that marred his mandate.

It remains for the moment in theory in the shelter, the current rules among the conservatives preventing a new vote of no confidence before a year.

Eager to show himself in business and on the international scene, Boris Johnson canceled last week a trip to the conservatives in the north of England to go to Kyiv for the second time, alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, strong in UK support in the face of the Russian invasion.

On the domestic front, the context is unfavorable for the Johnson government, with inflation at its highest for 40 years – exceeding 9% – which has provoked more and more social unrest, and the recent failure of a controversial attempt to deport migrants to Rwanda.

All after months of soap opera partygate to which is now added the “Carriegate” on alleged repeated attempts by Boris Johnson to obtain paid positions for his wife Carrie.

“I don’t think people necessarily see the local candidate,” said Margaret Ward, a 49-year-old receptionist, recently in Wakefield. “I believe they really look at what the government has done overall and take it into consideration,” she told AFP.

Ryder Parfit, a retired lawyer, considers that the ballot will be played out both on local issues, because we have been “under-represented in the past two years”. But he also believes that there will be “remarks on the direction of the party”, “with everything that has happened”.


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