Blow for Johnson as UK Tories Lose Control of Key Red Wall Seat

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(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s Conservatives lost a key parliamentary seat in northern England, a result likely to fuel fears in the party that support for him is slumping in areas that swung to the Tories from Labour in 2019.

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The UK’s main opposition Labour Party won back the district of Wakefield in West Yorkshire in a special election Thursday, boosting leader Keir Starmer as he tries to build momentum toward the next national poll due by January 2025.

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For Johnson, it’s the latest setback after months of turmoil. A series of scandals, including being fined by police following an investigation into illegal parties in Downing Street during the pandemic, led to an attempt to oust him by 40% of Tory MPs just over two weeks ago.

Having barely survived, Johnson has attempted to draw a line and move on, insisting he is focused on helping people with the cost-of-living crisis which has seen inflation surge to a four-decade high.

But the Wakefield result will alarm the prime minister, who steered his party to its biggest general election victory in more than three decades in 2019 -- in large part by convincing Labour voters in its so-called Red Wall in northern England heartlands to back his pledge to “get Brexit done.”

Johnson also made “levelling up” a key priority of his premiership -- a mission he describes as closing the opportunity gap with richer parts of Britain by investing in infrastructure and public services.

His allies are likely to plead special circumstances in Wakefield, given the special election was triggered when former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for sexual assault.

But Johnson’s Tories have also slumped in national polling during the UK’s cost-of-living crisis and as voters react to a succession of scandals surrounding the prime minister, including “partygate.”

According to Bloomberg’s Levelling Up Scorecard, the government is also failing on its signature policy, including in Wakefield.

The district is falling further behind London and the South-East on eight of 12 indicators since Johnson became premier. Compared to the capital, people in Wakefield face falling salaries, receive less public spending and transport investment, and face worsening crime.

Labour overturned a slim 3,358 majority to take the seat, with Simon Lightwood announced as the new MP in the early hours of Friday.

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