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Marching to medieval Wakefield Cathedral, lifelong Tory voters Pat Spawforth and her husband, Peter, were in no mood to forgive Boris Johnson after seeing his Commons apology for Partygate.

“It’s shameful,” Spawforth, 80, said. “Disgusting,” added her husband. The prime minister’s refusal to resign following Sue Gray’s scathing report was proof, he said, that the Tory leadership was “rotten to the core”.

Pat Spawforth, who has voted Conservative in most elections since the age of 18, has said she will not support the party in the upcoming Wakefield by-election, which was triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old. old boy. Peter, who has always voted for the Conservatives, said he was undecided.

“Boris was in charge; he should have stopped her. He should go,” Pat said. “He seems to be constantly twisting the truth, shall we say. That’s not how we were brought up and that’s what I now approve of.

The Tories are doomed if the views of these two party loyalists are reflected in Wakefield on June 23. The West Yorkshire constituency has a Conservative majority of just 3,358, having turned blue for the first time in 87 years in 2019.

Labor is likely to retake the seat in a key test of public opinion in a vital electoral battleground, although the next general election won’t be held until May 2024 at the latest.

Smoking a roll-up outside Costa, Jeff Thomas, 77, was one of many Wakefield residents to vote Conservative for the first time in 2019.

Like many of those who lent their vote to Johnson three years ago in protest at Labour’s leadership, he said his vote was up for grabs next month. “Whether I’ll vote for them again I’m undecided, but a lot of people won’t. I think Labor will come in. A bit will depend on Partygate, but a lot of people didn’t vote last time who would do it this time.

Thomas, a former construction manager, said the Downing Street parties were “wrong” but that it was “insignificant” compared to issues such as the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

‘Shameful’: Voters in key by-election seats react to Sue Gray’s report |  Gray report
Allan Jones with his Yorkshire terrier, Albert. Jones said Boris Johnson was “a yuck in his own right”. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Allan Jones, a 69-year-old merchant, agreed it was time to leave Partygate even though he was angry about it. “The first three months [of lockdown] was torture. Everyone suffered. You can’t invent the law and then break it yourself,” he said as he stroked his Yorkshire terrier, Albert. “He should be in a circus, this Boris. It’s a full class yuck.

Several voters said they were tired of hearing about anti-lockdown parties in Downing Street. Some also expressed weariness with the early days of the partial election campaign.

Tidying up the Karpaty bakery, Anna Zach said it was obvious the prime minister had to step down. “I’m disappointed. We stayed home and we closed,” said Zach, 34. “Of course he has to quit.

Tiverton and Honiton

Two hundred and fifty miles south, in the Devon town of Tiverton, Nicholas Page strolled through the market in tweed satchels and green boots, appearing to be a West Country Tory supporter, but even he admitted he felt less secure.

‘Shameful’: Voters in key by-election seats react to Sue Gray’s report |  Gray report
Nicholas Page said he would probably vote Conservative again, “but it’s only probably this time”. Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

“I’m a lifelong Conservative voter,” he said. “And I’ll probably vote for them again, but it’s probably just this once.” Boris Johnson should have just admitted what happened. Instead, it was all obfuscation and prevarication. His relationship to the truth is tenuous, to say the least.

But Page, a former farmer and now an independent countryside contractor in his 60s, said he couldn’t see who could succeed Johnson. “He is surrounded by useless yes men. I don’t know which would be the best.

Nneka, 18, a student, said she was disgusted by the Partygate scandal. “While the rest of us were following the rules, they were having a great time. They should be role models. They failed and Johnson should quit.

One of the elements of the Gray report that hit home for Nneka was the poor treatment of cleaners and security personnel. “This is terrible. They are powerful people who clearly don’t care about ordinary working people. We know Johnson is a racist with his watermelon smile and letterbox remarks. I will never vote for them.

‘Shameful’: Voters in key by-election seats react to Sue Gray’s report |  Gray report
Nneka: “While the rest of us were following the rules, they were having a great time.” Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

Theresa Kelland, who runs the fruit and veg store in the city’s Saddlebag Market, recalled being arrested by police during a lockdown while delivering supplies to vulnerable people. “The police were watching people like me but not the prime minister,” she said. “They were partying when people were dying.”

Sweeping from Exmoor in the north to Lyme Bay in the south, Tiverton and Honiton have sacked a Tory MP since its inception in 1997. The disgraced Neil Parish, who resigned after he was caught watching pornography in the House of Commons, might let in another party.

The Lib Dems were in Tiverton when the Gray report was published, rallying support as they tried to make inroads into the majority of the 24,000 Tories on June 23. Hannah Kitching, a Lib Dem councilor from South Yorkshire who was spending her holidays campaigning, said she knocked on more than 200 doors.

“We see a lot of discontent, disappointment, anger. People are really angry and hurt that Boris Johnson broke the lockdown rules when they did everything they could to follow them.

At the Independent Coffee Trader, owner Leigh Parker said she usually votes for the Conservatives but was unsure who she would opt for in next month’s by-election. “I’m on the fence right now,” she said.

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However, she added that she was tired of hearing about Partygate. “I’m ready to move on,” she said. Parker is more concerned about the cost of living crisis. She has run her cafe for seven years but does not earn a salary for herself and takes on two other jobs – as a room manager and a private paramedic – to make ends meet.

“My electric bill for this cafe has gone from £110 to almost £300 a month. That’s really what worries me.”

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