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Conservatives Could Be Facing Double By-Election Defeat, Polls Suggest

Polls suggest the Conservatives could lose both by-elections

3 min read

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives could face a double defeat in by-elections this Thursday. Polling suggests partygate and the cost-of-living crisis could drive losses in both a red wall marginal in Wakefield and a traditionally safe Conservative seat of Tiverton and Honiton.

The by-elections were triggered by the resignation of two scandal-hit Conservative MPs. In Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan stood down after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008, while former Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish quit after admitting he watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons chamber.

If Wakefield swings back to Labour and the Liberal Democrats triumph in Tiverton and Honiton, fresh questions are likely to be asked about Johnson’s leadership just two weeks after he survived a no-confidence vote which saw more than one-third of Conservative MPs call for him to step down over parties held in Downing Street during lockdown.

National polls of voting intentions show the Conservatives have been trailing behind Labour since December due to the partygate scandal and growing criticism that the government has not done enough to shield voters from the soaring cost of living. The Politico poll of polls — which combines the results of various polls – has Labour on 40 per cent and the Conservatives on 33 per cent.

“Labour would expect to regain Wakefield based on national polling trends alone,” Survation Chief Exec Damian Lyons Lowe told PoliticsHome

While the national trend implies a 7 point swing to Labour, a Survation poll earlier this month showed Labour would win by 23 points after victory in the local elections in the area in May. A JL Partners poll found a similar trend, putting Labour 20 points in front of the Conservatives.

“The key feature of our polling in the Wakefield constituency is the existence of a large group of disaffected Conservative voters from 2019,” JL Partners co-founder Tom Lubbock told PoliticsHome.

If the Conservatives fail to win some of those voters back, “Labour are likely to win handsomely, and that should act as a red flashing warning for Conservative MPs in the other red wall seats that the party won from Labour in 2019,” he added.

A defeat in Tiverton and Honiton, where the Liberal Democrats are the main challenger, would suggest the Conservatives are hemorrhaging support on multiple fronts. The Lib Dems are reportedly neck and neck with the Conservatives according to their internal figures, a stronger position than at the same point ahead of the December by-election in North Shropshire which they went on to win.

The Lib Dem challenger in Tiverton and Honiton, former army major Richard Foord, has a mountain to climb to overturn the Conservatives’ 2019 majority of more than 24,000 votes and prevent former headteacher Helen Hurford becoming the new Tory MP. 

But like North Shropshire, where the Lib Dems pulled off a huge 34 per cent swing in their direction, Tiverton and Honiton is rural with a few small market towns, voted Leave by more than the national average and has more older people than average, which could put Remain-leaning Lib Dems at a disadvantage.

Focus group findings published by JL Partners and Lord Ashcroft suggested several people who voted Conservative in 2019 do not want to support the Tories again — at least while Johnson is leader - with many saying they intended to vote Lib Dem in the by-election. 

“In Tiverton, the fact that there is even talk of a Lib Dem win speaks to the weakness of the Prime Minister's standing with the public,” Lubbock said

Josh Martin is a Content Specialist at Dods UK Political Intelligence. Visit the Dods Political Intelligence site.  

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