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Voter ‘anger’ threatens to inflict poll misery on Sunak

NewsVoter ‘anger’ threatens to inflict poll misery on Sunak

By-elections could this week bring misery for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as the Tories fight tooth and nail for seats in three crunch local polls. All eyes in Westminster will be on Thursday’s votes in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are intent on inflicting blows on the Conservatives.

It could be an appropriately dramatic end to a parliamentary term, after the Uxbridge and Selby polls were triggered by Boris Johnson’s resignation in response to the privileges committee’s probe.

And it comes at a time when households are still struggling with stubbornly high inflation and mortgage holders are being punished by interest rates.

Combined with NHS pressures and the impact of strikes, the results could put an early dampener on Mr Sunak’s summer recess.

Tory peer and pollster Lord Hayward believes the UK has now “returned to normal mid-term politics”, saying: “People will naturally express their anger about the current government…but – and this is where it becomes different – with all the seats, there is the burden of the events of the last 12 months.”

He said the party may pay the “penalty” for the turmoil surrounding Mr Johnson’s government.

The ex-prime minister took the west London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2015, securing it with a 7,000 majority in 2019.

Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell hopes the Sadiq Khan-backed Ultra Low Emission Zone will now sway voters away from the opposition.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party has been campaigning hard there, as the suburban town is potentially a key marker of the extent of fresh Labour gains.

Selby and Ainsty, in the North Yorkshire Tory heartland, may prove even more of a bellwether for Labour, after MP Nigel Adams quit when denied a peerage in Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list. He secured a 20,000 majority in 2019.

Labour strongly believes that Keir Mather, a 25-year-old Oxford graduate, is in with a chance and says it would be the largest majority Labour has overturned since the Second World War.

Lord Hayward said: “It is a tough ask for Labour, but they seem to be incredibly bullish.”

The third by-election is considered a key opportunity for the Liberal Democrats, who will be “building on a strong base” in the area.

The Somerton and Frome poll was prompted by the resignation of David Warburton, amid allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use. He took the seat from the Lib Dems in 2015.

Another seat with a 20,000 majority, the constituency could well be turned yellow come Friday morning by Lib Dem candidate Sarah Dyke.

It was previously held by former Lib Dem minister David Heath for more than a decade.

Lord Hayward added: “Until eight years ago, the Lib Dems had every seat in Somerset.”

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