Johnson braces for backlash as polls close in key UK votes
NNN: Polls closed on Thursday in two crucial UK by-elections that threaten to increase pressure on embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has vowed not to resign even if the ruling Conservatives lose the highly symbolic seats.
The Conservatives are expected to lose the race for the parliamentary seat of Tiverton and Honiton in south-west England, a true Blue Heart that has voted Conservative in every general election since the 1880s.
They are also expected to lose Wakefield in the north, part of the so-called Red Wall that shifted from Labor to Tory in Johnson’s 2019 collapse.
The votes take place after former Conservative MPs from the constituencies resigned in disgrace.
Former Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish has resigned after admitting to viewing porn on his phone in the House of Commons, while Wakefield’s Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for sexually assaulting a teenager.
The by-election also follows months of scandals and setbacks that have severely affected the popularity of Johnson and his party, and comes just weeks after he narrowly survived an attempt by his own lawmakers to unseat him as Conservative leader and prime minister.
In the June 6 vote among Conservative MPs, more than 40 percent of the parliamentary party abandoned Johnson, leaving him severely weakened and struggling to reinstate his turbulent tenure.
As voters head to the polls, the embattled UK leader is thousands of miles away to attend a Commonwealth summit, from where he again insisted quitting was not on his mind.
“Re crazy?” responded to reporters traveling with him when asked if Thursday’s two losses might prompt his resignation.
“Ruling parties usually don’t win by-elections, particularly in midterms,” Johnson added.
“I am completely focused on fulfilling the agenda of this government.”
Johnson has spent months fighting for her survival after a series of controversies, including the “Partygate” saga, prompted many conservatives to question whether she should stay on as leader.
Various opinion polls have shown that the public believes he lied about the Covid lockdown breaking events at Downing Street and that he should resign.
Even before controversy erupted last December, the 58-year-old architect of Brexit saw the loss of two once-safe seats in last year’s by-election.
He then scored dismally in the local elections in May.
The last potentially dangerous polls opened Thursday at 7 am (0600 GMT) and closed at 10 pm, with results expected in the early hours of Friday.
The Conservatives won Tiverton and Honiton in 2019 by more than 24,000 votes, but it looks set to change hands after what their former MP Parish described as an indefensible moment of “total insanity” viewing porn in parliament.
The Liberal Democrats, a small opposition, are hoping to succeed, with party leader Ed Davey saying they were “neck and neck”.
Residents are “fed up with Boris Johnson’s lies and negligence,” he added.
Wakefield, near Leeds, was one of dozens of former Labor seats Johnson filled in 2019 on a promise to “end Brexit” and address glaring regional economic inequalities.
But now he could back down due in part to Johnson’s declining popularity.
Retired teacher Judy Froggat said local people wanted to give Johnson “a bloody nose.”
“I am quite outraged by a lot of the things he has done,” she told AFP after casting her vote, calling the prime minister a “proven liar”.
The polls come with Britain locked in by 40-year highs in inflation and a cost-of-living crisis that has seen prices of everyday essentials such as energy, petrol and food soar.
This week’s rail workers’ strikes, some of the biggest in Britain in decades, have added to the sense of crisis.
But the Wakefield contest also carries risks for Labour, who need to secure those seats if they are to win the next general election scheduled for 2024.
Critics of Labor leader Keir Starmer are likely to take anything short of a convincing win at Wakefield as further evidence of his inability to complete the rebuild and return the party to power after 12 years in opposition.
Retired Wakefield resident Moretta Pullan, 79, said people were “disillusioned” with Britain’s two main political parties, but Johnson was getting the worst of it.
“So I think people are (at a) crossroads, really, as to who to vote for,” he told AFP.
“We all raised our hands for Boris and thought he was going to be the most wonderful leader we’ve ever had and take us to glory land, and he hasn’t.”
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