Will voters punish the Tories for the sins of Peter Bone?

If the Tories were trying to keep the seat of former MP Peter Bone in disgrace, you could be forgiven for not noticing.

On a gray Wednesday morning in early February, during the 20-minute walk from Wellingborough station to the town centre, there wasn’t a single Conservative poster or billboard in sight.

This is the same market town that voted in Boris Johnson’s government in 2019 with a huge majority of 18,540.

As the grand Victorian terraced houses give way to smaller shops and family bistros, you pass Conservative candidate Helen Harrison’s campaign headquarters.

It’s an abandoned single room with a clamped car parked outside. Bar some of Ms Harrison’s posters hanging in the window and a chair placed in the back corner of the room, you wouldn’t think anyone had been in there for years – especially a campaign team from the most electorally successful political party in the world. .

A clamped car sits outside Helen Harrison's abandoned campaign office (The Independent)

A clamped car sits outside Helen Harrison’s abandoned campaign office (The Independent)

But talking to people in town, it soon becomes clear why the Tories seem to be keeping their powder dry. Despite Mr. Bone’s chunky majority, they are fighting an uphill battle.

Not only are the Conservatives 20 points behind Labor in the national polls but local voters are furious at the behavior that led to Mr Bone’s ouster from parliament.

The senior Tory was sacked after he was found to have indecently exposed himself to a member of staff while caught in a hotel room bathroom.

According to many of the residents, the Tories did themselves little favors by selecting Ms Harrison, who happens to be Mr Bone’s partner for several years, instead.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak and his cabinet paid little attention to the contest, with not a single minister or Prime Minister showing up to campaign in the seat.

After many of the locals said they would not vote, largely because “they [politicians] the same”, some voters explained why they would not support the Conservatives next Thursday.

“I’m not voting for Peter Bone and his little puppet [Ms Harrison],” said one former Tory voter The Independent.

Ms Harrison is a 51-year-old physiotherapist currently serving as a Tory councilor in North Northamptonshire. She was one of the directors of Grassroots Out, a Brexit lobby group co-founded by Mr Bone before the 2016 EU referendum.

Mr Bone’s partner is a staunch supporter, despite the damning parliamentary report on his behaviour, and has said she is proud” to have the former Tory Taoiseach on the campaign trail with her.

She also claimed the standards panel was “wrong” to find he exposed himself to an assistant and physically assaulted him.

With Mr Bone by her side as she knocked on doors in Wellingborough and Rushden, she claimed people are not raising her partner’s behavior with her as an issue.

Another man said he usually votes with the Lib Dems, but Ms Harrison’s candidacy has prompted him to vote tactically for Labor next Thursday.

“The Tories have chosen Peter Bone’s girlfriend and that means he will be running, and we don’t want that,” he said.

A third Labor voter, who has supported the Lib Dems in the past, said the party’s candidate, Gen Kitchen, had beaten him. The man, who runs a U3A art class in the Victoria (community) Centre, said: “Gen has won my vote because she came to a painting class and did all her handshakes and introductions.

“But after all that, she rolled up her sleeves and helped the volunteers clean up and clean up.”

Labor candidate Gen Kitchen's campaign operation contrasts sharply with that of the Conservatives (The Independent)Labor candidate Gen Kitchen's campaign operation contrasts sharply with that of the Conservatives (The Independent)

Labor candidate Gen Kitchen’s campaign operation contrasts sharply with that of the Conservatives (The Independent)

“You have to,” said Miss Kitchen, whose honeymoon was cut short by the damning report on Mr Bone’s behavior that sparked the by-election.

The 28-year-old former waitress, consultant and charity worker said her natural instinct was to help clean up, and she even does it at the local bingo.

She was born in Northamptonshire to naval parents who think the idea of ​​her becoming an MP is “a bit crazy”.

But Ms Kitchen, who went to a local state school during the last Labor government, is determined to fight for constituents she says have been “left behind by Conservative leadership”.

She hit out at Mr Bone and the Tory-run local council, saying they have not applied for matching funds and are leaving the high street to decay.

“Why aren’t they bringing innovative ideas to the high street? They are supposed to be a business partner, and they don’t exist.”

At one point, strolling through Wellingborough town centre, there were 18 kebab shops and 18 barber shops all within a 10 minute walk.

One voter, a former doctor who lived in a more affluent neighborhood, said the town had changed for the worse in 30 years. “It used to be a lovely village town but now the town center is gone,” he said.

He said he had voted Labor and the Liberal Democrats in the past but would vote Labor this time because of Mr Bone’s misconduct.

But not all voters have made up their minds, said Hassan Ben Ali The Independent ​​​​​​​he would vote but “they are all the same”.

He complained about the cost of living crisis and the government’s handling of Brexit but said he was still considering backing the Conservatives.

And Mr Ben Ali criticized the position of Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak on Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

And, several hours after getting off the train at Wellingborough station, The Independent finally found a house with two posters outside supporting the Tory candidate, Ms Harrison.

But, asked if she wanted to talk about her support for the Conservatives, the occupant refused.

The Independent It was one of many media outlets that Ms Harrison was denied access to. A Labor MP said the party’s tactic appeared to be to hold on to as many hard-line Conservative voters as possible while encouraging turnout to be as low as possible.

“She is trying to sneak in at the back door,” said the MP.

And while it was difficult to support the Tories, Ms Kitchen has her own mountain to climb. Even in Sir Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997, Wellingborough was Labour’s second most marginal seat, with a majority of exactly 187.

If Labor wins a by-election next Thursday it would not only put Sir Keir Starmer on the course for power but also signal that he is presiding over a Blair-style landslide of his own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *