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By-election: Tory wobbles in true blue Bexley?

By Ione Wells
Westminster correspondent

Image supply, BBC/Tom Pilston

“To stand at such an important conference the other day and start talking about Peppa Pig and lose your place – how can this man be prime minister of this country?”

David Greenberg, 60, is a lifelong Conservative voter who has lived in Bexley all his life.

From conversations with clients at his family-run clothes boutique – on the excessive avenue since 1977 – he is aware of the world has all the time been “very blue”.

But forward of Thursday’s Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election, he says it feels completely different.

Since 2019 and Brexit, a brand new B-word is dominating the dialog.

“We’re all a little bit unsure about how things stand at the minute, obviously with what’s going on in Westminster, with Boris,” he says.

Boris Johnson’s management, and promise to “Get Brexit Done”, was seen as a serious asset for the Tories on the 2019 common election the place they received an 80-seat majority – however is persistence with the Conservative chief carrying skinny in this heartland seat?

Citing authorities guarantees to “level up”, latest modifications to the federal government’s social care plans, HGV driver shortages impacting deliveries to his enterprise, and unlawful immigration, Mr Greenberg asks: “Can we trust him? I don’t think so. When he opens his mouth, can we believe what he says? I don’t.”

Old Bexley and Sidcup has been a secure Conservative seat since its creation in 1983 – the social gathering received 64.9% of the vote in 2019. Labour have come second since 1992, with UKIP rocketing into third place in 2015 and 2017 in this predominantly pro-Brexit patch.

Image supply, BBC/Tom Pilston

Image caption,

Local resident David Greenberg remembers the previous Bexley MP James Brokenshire as a “terrific politician”

On the London commuter-belt, incomes listed here are larger than the nationwide common and the suburb options each the city bustle of Sidcup excessive avenue and the picturesque rural really feel of Bexley village.

The by-election on 2 December was triggered after the dying of the MP James Brokenshire, who Mr Greenberg describes as “a great man”, “terrific politician” and “personal friend” who had Bexley village at coronary heart – however he worries he will probably be a “hard act to follow”.

Government ministers and large Conservative names – together with Boris Johnson, deputy PM Dominic Raab, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and former PM Theresa May – have been out knocking on doorways with Tory candidate Louie French, an area councillor.

An indication, maybe, that they’re taking nothing as a right in this reliably blue space.

The opposition events are definitely speaking a very good struggle.

Labour are telling voters on the doorstep and on social media to “send a message to Westminster”.

Their candidate, Daniel Francis, has vowed to not take a second job if he wins, hoping to capitalise on weeks of headlines about “Tory sleaze”.

But his marketing campaign can also be specializing in native points, and discontent with the native Conservative-run council over bin strikes in the summer season, council tax rises and a controversial choice to construct new homes in a park in Old Farm Avenue, Sidcup.

Image supply, BBC/Tom Pilston

Image caption,

Labour candidate Daniel Francis has been an area councillor for 17 years

He’s knocked on doorways for Labour right here for 27 years and been a councillor for 17, and claims will probably be completely different this time.

“We are meeting a number of Conservative voters who won’t be voting, a number switching over to Labour,” he says.

Reform UK – previously the Brexit Party – could not have Nigel Farage on the helm, however new chief Richard Tice is hoping to park his tanks on the world’s well-trimmed Tory lawns simply the identical.

Brandishing a smartphone app that claims to report the voting preferences of everybody they canvass, social gathering staff say they’ve knocked on 90% of doorways with one week to go.

“Do you prefer the photo, or the real thing?” asks Mr Tice, as he palms residents a 20-page booklet with a shiny {photograph} of himself on the entrance.

It’s his opener to a well-rehearsed allure offensive that features “saving our boilers”, a referendum on the federal government’s web zero plans that he dubs “net stupid”, reducing taxes, and nil tolerance to unlawful immigration.

After listening to Mr Tice’s pitch, native resident Marnie Clarke seems to agree about power costs and the price of residing, however nonetheless feels undecided.

Image supply, BBC/Tom Pilston

Image caption,

Politicians will probably be hoping to persuade undecided voters like Marnie Clarke

“We’ve always voted Conservative but we’re a bit split at the moment,” she says.

The Liberal Democrats are hoping to duplicate their beautiful victory in April’s Chesham and Amersham by-election, after they overturned a big Conservative majority.

Candidate Simone Reynolds says she is choosing up issues in regards to the authorities’s social care funding plans. She additionally claims to have met Conservative voters citing “sleaze scandals” as a cause they’re undecided.

“Scandals” is the phrase provided up by Shah Syed, who has lived in Sidcup for 5 years.

He used to vote Labour, then switched to Conservative, however now thinks he can’t vote for the social gathering once more, saying: “Running a country is not running a theatre – you’re dealing with people’s futures and their lives.”

Another former Conservative voter, Bridget Heylett, says we have now a “shocking government” and plans to vote Labour “because I think Keir Starmer is not such a bad man, he’s a lawyer”.

Others are extra sympathetic to Boris Johnson and his authorities.

“Boris? I think he’s good at speaking, he’s very articulate, he’s very fun and jovial,” says surveyor Simon Meeks, a previously “staunch Tory” who’s now undecided.

“I think he’s done pretty well with things he’s had to face, I don’t have any major disagreements with him, with what he’s been up against he’s done pretty well.

“Maybe a few of the jokes might be turned down a bit.”

Image source, BBC/Tom Pilston

Image caption,

Florist Louise Dawson does not think she will vote at all

Louise Dawson, who runs the Flowers of Bexley Florist, has some sympathy with the government saying “it isn’t been a traditional few years”, but does not think she will vote at all this year.

On the government’s handling of coronavirus she says: “You cannot criticise somebody till you had been in that place.”

But she provides it was “irritating right here beforehand as a retail store to not have the ability to open for therefore lengthy, not have the ability to serve folks on the door, social distancing, we weren’t even in a position to open the door and serve people who means.”

The Green Party is having a decent run in national opinion polls, but the party has tended to come fourth or fifth in Bexley at general elections.

Their candidate Jonathan Rooks says he expects the Tories to hold the seat, but he has picked up concerns about climate change and air quality. He also claims to have detected some “frustration” with the Conservatives, despite always previously getting the impression that Boris Johnson was well-liked.

Conversations with voters are not a scientific guide to the national mood or even how a local poll will go, but it is notable how many residents want to offer their opinion on Mr Johnson.

The Conservatives did not respond to requests from the BBC to be allowed to accompany canvassers on the campaign trail.

But some senior Conservative MPs do not regard Bexley, a traditionally pro-Conservative, pro-Brexit, pro-Boris seat, as a litmus test for the prime minister’s popularity.

One who knows the area well says they feel very confident, and that “sleaze” has not been as much of an issue as they thought.

One minister who has visited the patch points out that governing parties historically used to get a hammering at mid-term by-elections – so the fact they’ve even won some, like Hartlepool, is reason to be optimistic.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Conservative candidate Louie French is hoping to hold on to the seat for his party

Party sources feel chipper about what some describe as a “sturdy native candidate” in Louie French and say, while they’ve had some grumbles on the doorstep about sleaze and immigration, their campaign is focusing on what they’ve achieved and what they plan to do.

Their campaign literature and social media adverts use positive language; attacks on their opposition are noticeably absent.

After weeks of difficult headlines for the Tories at Westminster, Mr French pledged to one local newspaper that if he was elected he would not have a second job.

In social media videos, he promotes his “delight” to be from Bexley and his opposition to Transport for London’s plans to charge vehicles registered outside London £3.50 to enter Greater London, which he brands Sadiq Khan’s Outer London Tax.

Even the opposition all quietly admit the Conservatives’ 19,000 majority would be very difficult to defeat for any party.

But if their majority is slashed – or even defeated against the odds – all eyes will be on how much, and by who, and what this means for less-safe seats at the next general election.

After a few weeks where relations between ministers and backbench Tory MPs have been rocky, the last thing the government wants is any suggestion the party’s leadership is starting to cost them votes.

Listed alphabetically, the following 11 candidates will stand for election:

  • Elaine Frances Cheeseman, The English Democrats
  • Daniel Francis, Labour Party
  • Louie Thomas French, Conservative Party
  • Richard Hewison, Rejoin EU
  • David Michael Kurten, Heritage Party
  • John Edmund Poynton, UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • Simone Reynolds, Liberal Democrats
  • Jonathan Scot Rooks, Green Party
  • Richard James Sunley Tice, Reform UK
  • Carol Margaret Valinejad, Christian Peoples Alliance
  • Mad Mike Young, Official Monster Raving Loony Party

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