The Pundits are looking forward to this month’s parliamentary by – elections as the next stumbling block for the Prime Minister. But his first election, since he survived a no-confidence vote, is actually coming this week in rural Norfolk. It reports NOAH VICKERS
It’s a choice that would not normally attract much attention.
Voters go to the polls in the village of Mattishall on Thursday in a by-election to elect a new Breckland Council representative.
The debate will usually be dominated by issues such as housing, trash cans and the condition of the grass edges.
But a new topic is pressing on … the country’s leadership.
Thursday’s vote will be Britain’s first election to be held in the wake of Monday’s no-confidence vote for Boris Johnson, with 41 per cent. of Tory MPs said they had lost faith in the Prime Minister.
While conservatives insist local issues will dominate the race, independent candidate Maggie Oechsle says anti-Tory sentiment has been aroused by partygate and MPs’ decision not to remove Mr Johnson as prime minister.
And it will not only be voters in the Mattishall itself who come out to vote, as the department also includes Yaxham, Garverston, Hardingham, East Tuddenham, Whinburgh and Westfield.
The vote comes because of the resignation of conservative Ian Martin, who resigned due to ill health in April.
In a farewell shot, Mr Martin criticized the Breckland Council for being too partisan and not transparent enough – a description which the authority’s Tory deputy chief said he did not recognize.
Martin has since endorsed Mrs Oechsle as his successor and urged voters to support her in relation to the Conservative candidate, Paul Plummer. There is also a Labor candidate, Kendra Cogman.
Ms Oechsle said the “anti-Tory mood” is “very clear” on the campaign track.
“I have been amazed at the depth of outrage over the partygate terrorists. If Downing Street feels the damage is over, they need to think again.”
Plummer was contacted for comment but was not available.
His agent, Dr. Christopher Kemp, said: “What happened on Monday in Westminster is irrelevant as far as this by-election is concerned.
“The people of Mattishall must choose who will represent them in the Breckland Council for the next 11 months.”
Dr. Kemp said the Conservative administration in Breckland was providing “services of the highest quality” and that the by-elections “were not a referendum on Boris Johnson”.
Asked if Mr Plummer was pleased that the Prime Minister won the vote of confidence, Dr. Kemp: “It’s not an appropriate thing for us to talk about in public.”
Asked whether Mr Plummer believes Mr Johnson should fight for the next Conservative parliamentary election, Drs. Kemp: “He has not given me any position on it and I will not ask him the question because it is all irrelevant to what my job is and what his job is, on Thursday.”
He insisted that Mr Plummer’s campaign was going “very well” and that local issues dominated.
Ms Oechsle said she also believed that “local council policy should be about local policies affecting local people”.
“I would like to hope that the residents of the Mattishall ward on Thursday will vote for a change in the status quo and vote for an independent councilor who will not follow any party political line,” she said.
But what about the voters themselves in the so-called ‘Breckland bellwether’?
Charlotte Butcher, a 39-year-old support worker, said she would likely vote conservative on Thursday.
“I think Boris [Johnson] has done really well in getting us through Covid. No one really knew what to do and I think he has done a really good job of getting all of us vaccinated.
“For the parties, it is difficult, for the long hours made.
“At first I was really angry because I thought he was having this party and we were in lockdown.
“But actually, when you look at it, and once the evidence has come out, they all worked long hours and tried to get us through Covid.”
Mrs Butcher said that over time, she had begun to worry less about the problem.
“I think we just have to move on, it’s not good to dwell on it,” she said.
She added that Mr Johnson was “better than [Labour leader Sir Keir] Starmer anyway ”.
“I think he is [Johnson] do it well … He’s a bit of a whiner, but he’s down to earth. “
Trevor Talbot, 75 and retired, said he had not been aware of Thursday’s midterm elections and did not expect to vote, but that he tends to vote conservatively in general elections.
“I like old Boris … though I’m not sure how long he will last in there [as PM, after Monday’s confidence vote].
“It’s stupid things he’s done, but I think he’s probably still the best guy.”
Asked about Mr Johnson’s positive sides, Mr Talbot said: “He got us out of Europe, he did not and I think that’s why they [the rebels in his party] want him out. “
At the partygate, he said, “I feel sorry for the people whose partners died and they could not go and see them, but it’s all out of proportion, I think.”
Chris Barrett, in his early 70s and retired, said: “It’s all basically in revolt.
“No matter how you look at it, it seems to be one rule for one, but not the other.”
He added that he was also very concerned about the cost of living crisis – as well as local issues such as parking.
And in the vote of confidence, he asked, “Who would you put in there [to replace Johnson]? ”
He said he was not sure who to vote for, who was not conservative.
Others from the local area, who live just outside the ward, also shared their thoughts.
Debbie Cane, a 55-year-old housewife living in Toftwood, Dereham, said: “He has not had the easiest premiere, has he?
“Everything has gone wrong since he came to power. He almost died too.
“I think people are a little harsh on him, honestly, I really do. Give the guy a chance – he’s a human being like the rest of us.
“I’m disappointed, because in the end, when you’re in power [you should follow the rules]… OK they were caught when they were a little naughty, but I know people who were also a little naughty, you know what I mean?
“Keir Starmer gets on my nerves. He’s just about to eat me. He’s so up in his own derriere, if you know what I mean. And he himself has been caught out, right?
“And who else are you going to put in power? I think Boris is probably the strongest character for the job. “
Heather Gordon, who lives just across the borough in Welborne in southern Norfolk, said she was not impressed with the decision by 211 Conservative MPs to keep Mr Johnson in place as prime minister.
“I thought it was wrong,” she said.
“I do not think so, he [Boris Johnson] really realize what he was doing – that he was partying and telling everyone else that he was not breaking the rules.
“When everyone else, practically, knew what the rules were … why did he say them in the first place if he could not keep them?”
The 78-year-old pensioner, who has previously voted for a mix of Conservative and Liberal Democrats, said the partygate and Monday’s vote of confidence would “no doubt” push her away from the ruling party the next time she casts her vote.
Alex, a 22-year-old who lives in Norwich and did not want to give his last name, said: “I do not like Boris at all.
“I think he is incompetent. I do not really like the Conservative Party at all, but I would rather they had someone competent.”
She added that partygate would hardly influence her vote because she “would never vote conservative” anyway.