LONDON — Britain’s ruling Conservative Party lost two strategically important parliamentary seats in Thursday’s election, dealing a damaging blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and raising fresh doubts about his scandal-ridden leadership.
Voters in Wakefield, a faded industrial town in West Yorkshire, and Tiverton and Honiton, a rural part of south-west England that is the party’s heartland, evicted the Conservative Party from seats that had opened up after that lawmakers have been knocked down by their own scandals. .
In Wakefield, Labor won a widely expected victory, by a comfortable margin over the Tories, in results released early Friday morning. In the south, which had been seen as a toss-up, the Liberal Democratic Party overcame a huge conservative majority in the last election to win the seat, also by a solid margin.
The double defeat is a scathing rebuke from Mr Johnson, who survived a vote of no confidence in his party earlier this month precipitated by a scandal over illicit parties held in Downing Street during the coronavirus pandemic. This will likely reignite talk of another no-confidence vote, although under current party rules Mr Johnson is unlikely to face another challenge until next June.
The defeats exposed Tory vulnerabilities on two fronts: the so-called ‘red wall’, England’s industrial north, where Mr Johnson broke a traditional Labor stronghold in the 2019 general election, and in the south West, a traditional conservative stronghold often referred to as the “Blue Wall”.
As gloomy as the Tories’ election outlook looks, it could get even worse next year, with runaway inflation, interest rate hikes and Britain almost certainly heading into recession.
In Tiverton, where the Liberal Democrats won 53% of the vote to the Conservatives 38%, winning candidate Richard Foord said the result would send “a shockwave through British politics”.
While the political contours of the two constituencies are very different, they share a common element: a conservative lawmaker who resigned in disgrace. In Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish resigned in April after he admitted watching pornography on his phone while sitting in Parliament. In Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan was sentenced to 18 months in prison in May after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenager.
Mr Khan’s legal troubles, which included multiple failed attempts to have his case heard in secret, meant Wakefield had no functional representative in Parliament for two years. It left the townspeople deeply disillusioned, analysts said, not just about Mr Khan but about politics in general.
“This whole unfortunate situation is about a broken political system that ignores voters and their wishes and politicians who don’t do the right thing or serve the people who brought them to power,” said Gavin Murray, editor of leader of the Wakefield Express. “This point is amplified and exaggerated by the behavior of Boris and Downing Street.”
While the Tories were little expected to retain the Wakefield seat, the scale of Labor’s victory there suggested it could successfully compete against the Tories. in the next general election.
The massive vote swing in Tiverton and Honiton, where the Tories had hoped to hold their own, was even more disappointing for Mr Johnson.
The Liberal Democrats’ upset victory, by a convincing margin, in one of the Conservative Party’s safest districts suggested that even the most loyal Tory voters had become disenchanted with the serial scandals and ongoing drama surrounding the Prime Minister .
Last year, the Tories were stunned by the loss of a parliamentary seat in Chesham and Amersham, an affluent neighborhood in northwest London. Analysts said it suggested a backlash against Mr Johnson’s divisive politics and tax and spending policies.
The government has promised to “level up” and boost the economy in the north of England, a reward for Red Wall voters. But some analysts see a significant risk of fracturing support among traditional southern conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats specialize in fighting over local issues in by-elections. They have a long history of surprise results, and their success in Tiverton and Honiton cemented the party’s strong performance in the local elections in May, where they also emerged as big winners.
In the days leading up to the two elections, Labor and the Liberal Democrats both concentrated their resources in the constituencies they were better placed to win, each giving the other a freer run.
Vince Cable, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that instead of any formal cooperation between the two parties, there was “unspoken understanding, relying on voters to come up with a reasonable outcome”.
For all the symbolism of the defeats, Mr Cable said, “in the short term, it won’t do Johnson much harm”, both because the prime minister recently won a vote of confidence among his lawmakers and because the defeat was “counted”.
“Because the economic outlook is so dire, certainly for the next 12 to 18 months, it wouldn’t surprise me if Johnson did something very risky and went to the fall election,” Mr. Cable said during an interview. a briefing the day before the elections.
Kenneth Baker, former Conservative Party chairman, said a defeat at Tiverton and Honiton would underscore that “the position is quite grim for the Conservative Party”, which won an 80-seat majority in Parliament in the 2019 general election.
“There is a huge opportunity for the Liberal Democrats now because neither the Labor Party nor the Conservative Party have a vision or a strategy,” said Mr Baker, who is a member of the House of Lords. Mr Johnson, he added, is now too polarizing a figure to lead the party successfully.
“If the Conservative Party continues to be led by Boris,” he said, “there is no way the Conservatives will get an absolute majority.”