In the by-election we can have our say on this travesty of a government

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My column in today’s Midweek Herald: It’s now pretty clear that however disgraceful Boris Johnson’s behaviour, Conservative MPs will not remove him. The most telling new revelations are about the Downing Street cleaner who was not allowed to visit her mother in hospital because of lockdown rules, but had to clean up the mess left by Johnson’s rule-breaking parties; and about the security guard being mocked by the PM’s staff for doing his job and pointing out that rules should be observed.

There was a time when any minister, let alone a prime minister, would have resigned for presiding over such outrageous behaviour. There was a time when Conservatives claimed to represent standards in public life, and when MPs would have forced a disgraced prime minister out. 

Our chance to make a difference

These times are gone, alas, and in most parts of the country people are pulling their hair out because there seems to be nothing they can do about this travesty of a government, so preoccupied with its own survival that for months it ignored the terrible cost of living crisis which is plunging families and pensioners into poverty.

But here in many parts of East Devon – Seaton, Axminster, Honiton and the villages around – we can do something. In three weeks time, we can vote in a by-election to send a message to Boris Johnson and the country that enough is enough.

This is an election which people who don’t always bother voting should make sure they turn out for. It’s an election to make sure you’re on the electoral register (if not, register to vote now), and to apply for a postal vote for if you’ll be away on 23 June. 

Tactical voting

It’s an election, too, where we need to vote tactically for the candidate best placed to defeat the Conservative, since on the morning after a Tory victory here, Johnson will conclude that the electorate will put up with anything – literally anything – that he throws at us.

When I first mooted tactical voting two weeks ago, I didn’t say who to vote for, but Sean Day Lewis from Colyton (writing in this paper) assumed I meant the Liberal Democrats rather than Labour. I think that’s telling – the sense that the Lib Dems are the people who can win is already out there even among people who’d like it to be Labour. Exeter’s Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, has also given a heavy hint: it’s the Lib Dems who can win this by-election, not his own party.

Indeed the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has drawn the same conclusion. Labour’s national party are not putting resources into this by-election because they know they can’t win. Starmer has an informal pact with the Lib Dems because they know that working together, they can help put the British people out of the misery that the Tories have created. 

Horses for courses

We should welcome this outbreak of common sense among the parties. It’s the same approach we already have in local politics, where my own East Devon Alliance of Independents has teamed up with the Lib Dems and Greens to give EDDC its first non-Conservative administration in 50 years.

I empathise with Labour’s Liz Pole and the Greens’ Gill Westcott, both good candidates who in other circumstances might well gain my vote as their parties have in the past. As an Independent, I’ve worked with Lib Dem, Labour and Green members on the County Council, and I know that there is much more that unites us all, and separates us all from Johnson’s Conservatives, than divides us.

When it comes to the by-election, it’s horses for courses. We need to make sure this corrupt government does not win here again. Personally, I would feel sick if Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat candidate, lost by a few votes on June 23 while I’d given my vote to a Labour or Green candidate who had no hope of winning.

Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Foord

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