Wind of change blowing though Boris Johnson’s former seat

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference in response to the publication of the Sue Gray report Into "Partygate", at Downing Street in London, England May 25, 2022Reuters

In the Conservative stronghold of Uxbridge, west London, many voters hope that change is in the air as they prepare to choose former prime minister Boris Johnson’s replacement as MP.

Johnson quit parliament last month and the main opposition Labour party is the favourite to pick up the seat when voters go to the polls on July 20.

The Conservatives are languishing in the polls after 13 stormy years in power, and face a daunting electoral test next week with by-elections in three traditionally Tory constituencies.

The results are being seen as a bellwether of support for the ruling party before a general election due to be held next year.

The most closely watched battle is for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which has been Conservative for decades and was served by Johnson until his shock resignation from parliament.

He was elected in 2019 with only a 7,210-vote majority, but he helmed his party to a crushing victory across the country.

Aoife Jenkinson, a 45-year-old psychologist, is “very eager for this election and hopefully for a new government”.

Although she usually votes for the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats, this time she will opt for Labour to try and secure them a comfortable majority.

“He’s bereft of any morals, he’s a selfish man-child,” she said of Johnson.

He was forced to resign as prime minister last summer after a series of scandals.

The most damaging was “Partygate”, when illegal gatherings were found to have taken place in his Downing Street office during the pandemic.

A report concluded in June that he had deliberately lied to parliament about his knowledge of the parties.

Shortly after reading the report, he resigned as an MP in order to avoid humiliating sanctions.

But that hasn’t drained him of all support, and he still has fans in Uxbridge, like Debbie Cusmans, a 59-year-old carer.

“I miss him,” she said, adding that she will vote Conservative.

She trusts them more on security and most importantly, “they’re going to try to stop the £12.50 charge”.

There’s no need to explain what she means in this part of the capital, with the “ULEZ” (Ultra Low Emission Zone) on everyone’s lips.

This tax on the most polluting vehicles is due to be extended to Greater London on 29 August.

It means that residents of Uxbridge with pre-2006 petrol cars or pre-2015 diesels face a daily charge of £12.50 ($16.23, 14.80 euros).

‘People are suffering’

This is a blow for many residents of Uxbridge, which is home to a mix of middle- and working-class residents.

“I can’t afford it”, said Cusmans, attacking London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan for the policy, despite it originally being launched by Johnson himself in 2015 while mayor.

Given the strength of feeling, Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell is trying to make the by-election an ULEZ referendum.

Labour’s Danny Beales has distanced himself from the extension, deeming it “not the right time”.

“It’s better to postpone,” said Ajith Wickramanayake, a 49-year-old barista, who will vote Labour.

“The environment is important... but people need to recover from inflation,” he added.

Inflation is currently running at 8.7 per cent, the highest in the G7, and is causing a severe cost-of-living crisis in the UK.

“People are suffering and people need more support,” said Gez Neacy, a 58-year-old railway engineer.

The Conservatives have “ended up trashing this country”, he added, but would not reveal who he will be voting for, other than that it will be against the Tories.

“Everybody is fed up with them,” said Jennifer Cooper, 70, singling out Johnson and prime minister Rishi Sunak.

She will vote Conservative, as she always has, but she thinks Labour will win.

“Lots of people think it’s time for a change”.

There are also many disillusioned potential voters on the streets of Uxbridge, including young people who seemed to have little interest in the election.

John Tebb, a 63-year-old engineer, will also not be voting.

“It’s sad, it’s the first time ever,” he said.

“I was always Conservative but I’m completely disillusioned”.