TODAY, the Conservatives are contesting two important by-elections.

One is in Wakefield in the so-called red wall of formerly Labour seats which fell to the Tories in the December 2019 General Election – and which were crucial in giving Johnson his 80-seat majority in the Commons. The other contest is in the Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, a seat which has been held by the Conservatives since its creation.

The by-elections are being held following the resignations of the sitting Conservative MPs. Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was expelled by the party on April 11, 2022, after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. Khan was jailed for 18 months on May 23. Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish admitted to allegations that he had watched pornography in the Commons chamber and resigned as an MP, triggering today's by-election.

The two seats are very different in character. Conservative MPs from both the traditionally Labour Brexit-voting seats which went Tory in the last General Election and MPs representing seats in the Conservative heartlands in the south of England will be watching the results nervously.

It is widely expected that voters will punish the party for Johnson's law-breaking and its failure to get to grips with the cost of living crisis. The real question is just how badly are the Conservatives going to do? Recent opinion polling suggests that Labour, which held Wakefield from 1932 until 2019, is likely to take the seat back from the Conservatives. This will unnerve the cohort of new Conservative MPs who entered Parliament in 2019 from former Labour seats on the back of Conservative support for Brexit, but will be spun by party managers as not being entirely unexpected.

If Labour win, Starmer will seize on it as evidence that his party is regaining lost ground and is on course to take power from the Conservatives at the next General Election.

However, if the Conservatives lose Tiverton and Honiton as well – the LibDems are bullish about their chances – this would be seen as catastrophic for the Conservatives and increase the already substantial opposition to Johnson on the Tory benches. It would show that the Conservatives are being squeezed between Labour in the north of England and Midlands and the LibDems in the south.

Johnson has already dismissed as "crazy" any suggestion that he should resign if his party loses both by-elections. Taking responsibility is not in Johnson's wheelhouse. Although a bad performance for the Conservatives will increase Tory disquiet that Johnson is no longer a vote-winner for them in the English seats they need to win or hold on to in order to guarantee their majority (the party has effectively already given up on Scotland), barring a change to the Conservative Party rules, Johnson cannot face another confidence vote until June next year.

He has made it quite clear that he has no intention of resigning and that his party will have to force him out of office. He will use all the underhand and duplicitous means at his disposal to fend off any challenge to his leadership and Tories now realise that he has no concern about what damage this might cause to their party. They knew what they were getting when they inflicted him on the rest of us as Prime Minister, so if you are currently shopping online for the world's tiniest violin, you'll find that they are sold out.

What all this means is that the chances of a snap General Election are receding. If the Tories do perform more poorly than expected today and lose both by-elections, their leadership turmoil will only intensify, but Tory MPs will be all the more reluctant to face the voters in a General Election and risk losing their Commons majority.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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