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17 June 2022

Is this really the best the Tories can do for by-election candidates?

Helen Hurford refused to say whether Boris Johnson was trustworthy, while Nadeem Ahmed compared his predecessor to Harold Shipman.

By Jonn Elledge

We are, at time of writing, just six days out from the latest instalment of that hit series, Today Could Mean The End For Boris Johnson. Thursday 23 June will bring by-elections in both Wakefield, which the Tories won from Labour for the first time in nearly nine decades in 2019, and Tiverton and Honiton, a part of south Devon that the Tories have held essentially forever.

Polling suggests that the Tories may well be on course to lose both, to Labour and Lib Dems respectively. That means we might – just might – get a day in which we can watch both Red and Blue Walls crumbling simultaneously, live on BBC One. At the very least, Joshua is looking meaningfully at a trumpet

On reading that Helen Hurford, the Conservative candidate in Tiverton, had twice refused to say whether or not she thought Boris Johnson was trustworthy, I almost felt sorry for her: I mean, what is she supposed to say? The rest of the interview rather cleansed me of any unwarranted sympathy, however. Why is she not cruising to victory in a seat in which the last guy – the green bench pornography-enjoyer Neil Parish – had a majority of 24,000, the Guardian asked? Because of “the media’s persistent regurgitating of partygate – even though there has been a line drawn in the sand… people aren’t allowed to move on from it”, according to Hurford. Not, in other words, because the public is rightly furious about this government’s behaviour, but because horrible mean journalists won’t stop being beastly to the Prime Minister. Who may or may not be trustworthy. Despite the exemplary use of the passive voice, however, Hurford clearly deserves to lose.

That’s nothing, though, compared with the mess that Nadeem Ahmed, the Conservative candidate in Wakefield, has made for himself. His by-election is only taking place because the previous MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. Having been handed some metaphorical rope by the Daily Telegraph, which conducted a video interview with him, Nadeem Ahmed opined that “we still trust GPs” even though Harold Shipman killed 250 people. Has there ever been a more compelling argument to vote for a political party than “hardly any of us have ever actually been convicted of sexually assaulting a child”?

(Oh, and it’s worth mentioning he also described the convicted man as “one bad apple”, falling prey to the common misuse of that phrase and thus inadvertently suggesting that Khan had spoiled the whole barrel. But that seems, under the circumstances, a minor issue.)

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There are all sorts of compelling reasons not to vote Conservative right now, even if you’re the sort of person who’s normally minded to. The cost-of-living crisis. The lack of an animating mission beyond protecting a Prime Minister who seems unable to grasp that other human beings actually exist. Ministers’ growing inability to disguise the fact they think the electorate is stupid.

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But besides all that, a big one must surely be – these are the sort of people they think fit to govern us? If this is the best they can do – for the Conservative Party’s sake as well as the country’s – then the sooner those trumpets start blowing the better.

[Follow the latest news from the by-elections in our Live blog: LIVE: Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton by-election results – New Statesman]