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Poll predicts heavy Tory by-election loss amid reports PM faces leadership test

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New polling has indicated that the Conservatives are in for a crushing defeat in the Wakefield by-election amid reports Boris Johnson could face a vote on his future as soon as next week.

The Prime Minister secured his majority of about 80 seats at the 2019 general election off the back of scalps in the so-called Red Wall – traditional Labour supporting areas in the North of England, the Midlands and Wales which voted Tory, inspired by Mr Johnson’s promise of delivering Brexit.

But with Wakefield scheduled to go to the polls on June 23 to elect a new MP after former Tory incumbent Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a boy, fresh polling is likely to make for worrying reading in the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

A survey by JL Partners and reported in the Sunday Times gives Labour a 20-point lead over the Tories in Wakefield, a constituency which before the 2019 result had consistently voted for a candidate wearing a red rosette since the 1930s.

The poll puts Labour on 48% and the Tories on 28%, down by 19 points.

James Johnson, co-founder of the organisation and a former Downing Street pollster during Theresa May’s tenure, said the Conservatives are “behind Labour in every age group apart from the over-65s”, with polling day less than three weeks away.

The polling expert said the top reason swing voters in Wakefield gave for their Labour preference was that “Boris Johnson tried to cover up partygate, and lied to the public”.

The second most popular reason for opting for Sir Keir Starmer’s party was because they saw Mr Johnson as being out of touch with the working class.

The result could pile more pressure on the Prime Minister, who faces a second test in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election on the same day as Wakefield, in the wake of the revelations about lockdown-busting parties in No 10.

Almost 30 Tory MPs have publicly called for Mr Johnson to quit over his handling of the so-called partygate affair, with more voicing criticisms of his leadership.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, is the only person who knows how many no confidence letters have been submitted
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, is the only person who knows how many no confidence letters have been submitted (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Under Conservative Party rules, if 54 letters of no confidence in his premiership are submitted to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, then a leadership vote will be held.

The Sunday Times said it had been told by one rebel they had privately tallied that as many as 67 letters had gone in during the secret process which, if correct, would mean the threshold has been reached.

According to the newspaper, a vote on the future of Mr Johnson’s premiership could take place as soon as Wednesday.

The rebels would need 180 voters to remove the Prime Minister from power, otherwise affording him, by the current rules, a year’s stay of execution before another bid to oust him can be held.

But, according to an unnamed minister quoted by The Times on Saturday, Mr Johnson might not be able to rely on the ministers, whips and aides on the Government’s payroll – said to be around 140 people – to prop him up during such a vote.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous minister as saying they “don’t know” if they “can vote confidence in him”.

The person is quoted as saying: “I haven’t had any confidence in him for a long time, but I never thought we’d get to a confidence vote.

“And then there’s whether I can lie in public and I say I voted confidence. I don’t know whether I can.”

It is not only Tory MPs that have publicly voiced their displeasure at the Prime Minister following the publication last month of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the lockdown gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall.

The Prime Minister was booed by some in the crowd as he arrived with his wife, Carrie Johnson, to attend the National Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday as part the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

He faced a second embarrassment on Saturday evening when comedian Lee Mack made a joke about partygate during the Platinum Party at the Palace concert, with the Prime Minister sat in the royal box at the time.

Sir Keir Starmer said he “wasn’t surprised” that Mr Johnson faced a hostile reception from some of those gathered outside the cathedral.

Labour leader told PA news agency on Saturday that the public was “fed up” of the Prime Minister and his administration following their “inaction” on helping people through the cost of living crisis.

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