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Governing parties “generally do not win by-elections”, the Prime Minister has said, adding that it would be “crazy” to suggest he will resign if the Tories lose both seats.
He spoke on Wednesday night just before boarding a plane to Rwanda where he will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Asked whether he would quit if he fails to win either seat, he said: “Come on, it was only a year ago that we won the Hartlepool by-election, which everybody thought was… We hadn’t won Hartlepool for – I can’t remember when the Tory party last won Hartlepool – a long time. I don’t think it ever had.
“Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in mid-term. I’m very hopeful. But you know, there you go. That’s just the reality.”
But pressed on whether he would quit as Prime Minister, he replied: “Are you crazy?”
Last year, the Conservatives won Hartlepool, turning the Red Wall constituency blue for the first time since it was created.
It was heralded as a triumph for the Tories and a disaster for Labour, which had held the seat continuously since its establishment in 1964.
But this week’s two by-elections present another key hurdle for Mr Johnson given that they are the first electoral tests since he survived a no-confidence vote in his leadership from his own MPs.
The Wakefield by-election was triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan, the former Tory MP who resigned after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Khan was the first Tory MP to be elected for Wakefield since 1931, amid a wave of Conservative victories in Red Wall constituencies in Labour heartlands at the last general election.
Conservative strategists expect the seat to return to Labour in Thursday’s vote, amid fears about the rising cost of living, anger over partygate and Khan’s conviction.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are seeking to overturn a Tory majority of 24,239 in Tiverton and Honiton.
That is more than 1,000 larger than the shock win that the party achieved in North Shropshire last year, and almost 10,000 more than its win in rural Chesham and Amersham.
That by-election followed the high-profile departure of Neil Parish, the rural Devon constituency’s previous Conservative MP, who resigned after admitting that he watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.
Since the seat of Tiverton and Honiton was created in 1997, it has always been held by the Tories by a significant margin.
The Telegraph revealed last week that Mr Johnson has been “airbrushed” from the Conservatives’ by-election campaign literature, with leaflets and online advertisements not mentioning him.
A six-page pamphlet distributed by Helen Hurford, the Tory candidate in Tiverton and Honiton, failed to mention the Conservative Party until the fourth page and made no references to Mr Johnson.
Another pamphlet distributed by Nadeem Ahmed, the party’s candidate in Wakefield, also included no references to the Prime Minister or photographs of him.