As they walked to Wakefield’s medieval cathedral, lifelong Conservative voters Pat Spawforth and her husband, Peter, were in no mood to forgive Boris Johnson after seeing his apologies to the House of Commons over Partygate.
“It’s a shame,” said Spawforth, 80. “Disgusting,” her husband added. The prime minister’s refusal to resign after the disturbing Sue Gray report was proof, he said, that the Conservative leadership was “rotten to the bone”.
Pat Spawforth, who has voted for Tory in most elections since she was 18, said she would not support the party in the upcoming Wakefield by-election, which was triggered by Imran Ahmad Khan’s resignation after he was convicted of sexually assaulting of a 15 year old boy. Peter, who has always voted conservative, said he was undecided.
“Boris was in charge; he should have stopped it. He has to go,” Pat said. “He seems to be consistently twisting the truth, shall we say. That’s not how we were raised and I don’t approve of that.”
The Conservatives are doomed to fail if the views of these two party loyalists are reflected in Wakefield on June 23. The West Yorkshire constituency has a Tory majority of just 3,358, having gone blue for the first time in 87 years in 2019.
Labor is a contender to sit back in a major test of public opinion in a vital electoral battlefield, though the next general election is set to take place no later than May 2024.
Smoking a roll-up outside Costa, Jeff Thomas, 77, was one of many Wakefield residents who first voted for Tory in 2019.
Like many who lent their vote to Johnson three years ago in protest against Labour, he said his vote was up for grabs next month. “Whether I’ll vote for them again, I don’t know yet, but a lot of people won’t. I think Labor will succeed. A bit will depend on Partygate, but a lot of people didn’t vote for who would be this time last time.’
Thomas, a former construction manager, thought the Downing Street parties were “wrong” but that it was “trivial” compared to issues such as the cost of living, the crisis and the war in Ukraine.
Allan Jones, a 69-year-old stallholder, agreed it was time to move on with Partygate, even though he was angry about it. “The first three months [of lockdown] been torture. Everyone has suffered. You can’t make up the law and then break it yourself,” he said, stroking his Yorkshire terrier, Albert. ‘He should be in a circus, that Boris. He’s a real birch.”
Several voters said they were tired of hearing about the lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street. Some also expressed their tiredness about the early days of the mid-term election campaign.
Anna Zach was cleaning up at Karpaty bakery and said it was clear that the prime minister had to resign. “I’m disappointed. We stayed at home and we closed,” said Zach, 34. “Of course he has to step down.”
Tiverton and Honiton
Two hundred and fifty miles south, in the Devon town of Tiverton, Nicholas Page was strolling through the pannier market in tweed and green boots, looking every inch like a West Country Tory supporter, but even he admitted he wasn’t so sure. used to be.
“I’m a lifelong conservative voter,” he said. “And I’ll probably vote for them again, but it’s probably this time. Boris Johnson should have just admitted what was going on. Instead, it has all been embezzlement and exploitation. His relationship with the truth is tenuous to say the least.”
But Page, a former farmer and now a self-employed rural contractor in his 60s, said he couldn’t see who could take over Johnson. “He’s surrounded by useless yes-men. I don’t know who would be better.”
Nneka, 18, a college student, said she was disgusted by the Partygate scandal. “While the rest of us followed the rules, they had a good time. They should be role models. They failed and Johnson should resign.”
One of the elements of the Gray report that hit Nneka was the poor treatment of cleaners and security personnel. “That’s terrible. They’re powerful people who clearly don’t care about ordinary workers. We know Johnson is a racist with his comments about watermelon smiles and mailboxes. I will never vote for them.”
Theresa Kelland, who runs the fruit and vegetable shop at the city’s pannier market, recalls being stopped by police during a lockdown while delivering supplies to vulnerable people. “The police were watching people like me, but not the prime minister,” she said. “They were partying when people died.”
From Exmoor in the north to Lyme Bay in the south, Tiverton and Honiton have returned a Tory MP since their creation in 1997. The disgrace of Neil Parish, who resigned after he was caught watching pornography in the House of Commons, may be another celebration.
The Lib Dems were in Tiverton when the Gray report was published, gathering support as they tried to break into the 24,000 majority of the Tories on June 23. Hannah Kitching, a South Yorkshire Lib Dem councilor who spent her holidays on the campaign trail, said she had knocked on more than 200 doors.
“We find a lot of discontent, disappointment, anger. People are really angry and hurt that Boris Johnson broke the lockdown rules while doing everything they could to follow them.”
At the Independent Coffee Trader cafe, its owner, Leigh Parker, said she normally voted for Tory, but wasn’t sure who she would choose in next month’s by-election. “I’m on the fence right now,” she said.
However, she added that she was tired of hearing about Partygate. “I’m ready to move on,” she said. Parker is more concerned about the cost of living. She has been running her cafe for seven years, but takes no pay for herself and has two other jobs – as a location manager and private paramedic – to make ends meet.
“My electricity bill for this cafe has increased from £110 to almost £300 a month. That’s what really comes to mind.”