Voting is closed for two crucial by-elections, in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton, the results of which could play a crucial role in Boris Johnson’s political future.
Defeats in both what were previously Tory-held seats could restart a challenge to the prime minister from disgruntled Conservative MPs, especially if the Liberal Democrats topple a majority of over 24,000 in Tiverton and Honiton.
The Devon seat, which has been held by Tory in its various incarnations for more than a century, was represented by Neil Parish from 2010. Parish resigned after admitting he had seen pornography in the Commons.
Turnout for the Tiverton & Honiton by-elections was 52%, the local authority said. The turnout in the 2019 general election was just under 72%.
Results are expected from around noon. 4pm on Friday where Wakefield is likely to declare first as the West Yorkshire constituency is more geographically concentrated.
That vote also came after the incumbent Tory MP withdrew in disgrace. Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
While Labor is largely predicted to triumph in Wakefield, a constituency it consistently held up to in 2019, a Tory defeat in Tiverton and Honiton would send significant nervousness through the Conservative parliamentary party.
If Lib Dems wins, it is believed that this would be the largest numerical majority overturned in a by-election, although there have been larger percentage fluctuations in other seats.
Turnout in Wakefield City Elections was 39.09%, Wakefield Council said. 27,205 confirmed ballot papers were cast out of a total of 69,601 voters. The turnout in the 2019 general election was 64.15%.
Both Lib Dems and Tories have described the Devon race as too close to calling. The sheer volume of Lib Dems’ efforts on the ground alone – on Wednesday party activists handed out more than 40,000 leaflets – could tip the result in their favor.
Johnson is in Rwanda for the Commonwealth Leaders’ Summit before traveling to the G7 and NATO summits in Germany and Spain, and will keep him out of the country next week. Speaking to TV stations in Kigali, Johnsons said: “I will see the results with interest, but always full of optimism and buoyancy, but most experienced political observers know that medium-term elections are never necessarily easy for any government. . “
A double loss, especially if there is a significant turn back to Labor at Wakefield, could push the Tory backers in the direction of restarting efforts to oust Johnson in his absence.
After this month’s no-confidence vote, in which 41% of Tory MPs voted against him, he is, according to party rules, safe from a similar challenge for a year. However, these rules are subject to change.
The pressure on Johnson will be particularly intense if the Wakefield result indicates that Labor under Keir Starmer is making significant inroads into such “red wall” seats, increasing the pressure from the resurgent Liberal Democrats.
In December, Lib Dems seized another rural, Brexit-minded Tory stronghold, toppling a majority of nearly 23,000 to win the northern Shropshire by-election after former incumbent Owen Paterson resigned over a lobbying scandal.
This followed a victory for the Lib Dems in June last year in Chesham and Amersham, a constituency with a commuter belt north-west of London, which raised concerns among Tory MPs that dozens of similar “blue wall” seats could fall due of widespread aversion to Johnson among more liberal-minded conservative voters.
A sense that Johnson is no longer an electoral candidate, combined with the controversy over shutdown-breaking Downing Street parties that prompted the initial vote of confidence, could see Tory MPs turn decisively against the prime minister, though a new challenge is considered unlikely before autumn.