Boris Johnson insisted he was “full of optimism and cheerfulness” as he awaits the results of two by-elections that could have serious implications for his leadership.
Wakefield, Tiverton and Honiton all closed after contests initiated by Conservative MPs who resign in disgrace.
As Labor defies the red wall in West Yorkshire and the Liberal Democrats hope to topple the huge Conservative majority in Devon, a Tory defeat could raise further questions about Mr Johnson’s position, just weeks after 41% of his MPs said they don’t have confidence in him.
The Prime Minister will monitor the results from Rwanda, where he is attending the Commonwealth Leaders’ Summit.
Speaking to broadcasters in the capital Kigali, the prime minister said: “I will follow the results with interest, but always full of optimism and cheerfulness, but most experienced political observers know that by-elections in the midterm are never easy. for any government.
He suggested that it would be “crazy” for him to leave if the party lost two seats, and stated that he was “highly hopeful” of the results.
In Wakefield, former Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down after being found guilty of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy, a crime for which he was jailed for 18 months.
Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being a Labor stronghold since the 1930s, but now Labor is looking to get it back.
In Devonian Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, the Conservative MP since 2010, resigned after he admitted to watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats are the main contender in this rural southwestern constituency, where they hope to repeat by-election wins in North Shropshire in December and Chesham and Amersham a year ago.
A victory for the Liberal Democrats would require the overthrow of the Conservative majority of 24,239, but party leader Sir Ed Davey was certain they were head to head with the Tories on the eve of the vote.
Residents are “fed up with Boris Johnson’s lies and neglect,” he said, urging them to support his party’s candidate, former soldier Richard Furd.
“Farmers have been sold out due to foreign trade deals, people are struggling to access general practitioners and dentists, and local roads and schools have been destroyed.
“Families are facing rising gas bills and food prices, and this government’s only response is to continually raise taxes.”
The prime minister urged voters to “come out for British food and agriculture” by supporting Tori Helen Herford, a former headmaster.
In a video posted to social media on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson appeared with the candidate at a farm, saying the party was working to protect “our fantastic food and agriculture industry and “the amazing agricultural sector.”
The loss of the Tory stronghold will be seen as a sign of Mr. Johnson’s declining electoral appeal after partygate and amid the cost-of-living crisis and could spark further backlash against his power.
The Tories face a bigger challenge in keeping the Wakefield seat, and Labor is now in the running to knock over the Conservatives’ 2019 majority of 3,358.
Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised eyebrows when he said last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan’s sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust general practitioners despite the mass murderer’s crimes. Harold Shipman.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said that a victory in the northern constituency “could be the birthplace of the next Labor government”.
On the eve of the opening of the polls, he said: “The public is fed up with Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party, which promises a lot but never delivers.
“Labor Party candidate Simon Lightwood has campaigned positively – with a plan to bring well-paying jobs and investment to Wakefield, bring more cops to the streets to combat antisocial behavior and fight to reverse unfair National Insurance growth.
“But voting for anyone other than Labor would let Boris Johnson off the hook. The people of Wakefield have a chance to send a message to the Tories that enough is enough.”
If the Conservatives are defeated in both by-elections, it will be only the seventh time the government has suffered such a double defeat since World War II.