express– Louie French secured the seat for the Conservatives with 51.3 percent of the vote while Labour’s Daniel Francis came second. The Tories’ majority was slashed from 18,962 in the 2019 general election to 4,478 with a 10 percent swing to Labour. Turnout was 34 percent.
Old Bexley and Sidcup is traditionally a true blue Tory stronghold with the party retaining the seat since it was established in 1983.
But the vote came in the wake of a corruption scandal and allegations of sleaze after former MP Owen Patterson was found by the House of Commons Standards Committee to have inappropriately lobbied ministers on behalf of a company he worked for.
Charity shop volunteer Paula Woodcock described the by-election result as predictable and partly testimony to the popularity of James Brokenshire who was the seat’s MP until his death in October aged 53 from cancer.
She described Mr French as personable and cheerful, but said the prime minister was “singularly incapable” of his role.
Paula said: “The buffoonery, the lack of a grip. He doesn’t seem to have a vision. That idea you can make a joke and get away with something, I get the sense that even within the Tory party itself they are thinking this is no good for us.”
Bexley businesswoman Barbara Dyche is a lifelong Tory voter. She voted Conservative in Thursday’s vote, even though she is not impressed with the prime minister.
She said: “He’s lost people’s faith. Last week he was talking about Peppa Pig. That’s got nothing to do with what is going on at the moment. The country is in a mess over immigration. Bexley is neglected. It’s a shame. I don’t think Boris will lead the Tories into the next election.”
However, the hairdresser added that whoever was leader during the pandemic would have struggled.
Elizabeth Murray, who manages Bexley Country Market, said she could not see anyone capable of taking over from Mr Johnson.
She said: “It’s a difficult job for anyone in the current climate. I would not like to be Boris at this time. Starmer or anyone else would still have found it difficult.”
Amateur photographer Richard Winston urged the Conservatives to find a leader who tells the truth, suggesting Jeremy Hunt would be good for the job.
Retired refrigeration engineer Michael Bull said: “I think he does okay. But there’s not a lot of good ones about whatever party it is.”
Scrap metal dealer John Taylor, a lifelong Tory voter, defended the PM saying he is doing his best given the challenges posed by the pandemic.
But Bob Byrne, a retired civil servant who used to vote Tory, said the country needs politicians people can respect.
On the Conservative Party, he said: “They should get a grip and make themselves appear more responsible, though trying to run the country at the moment is like a poison chalice.”
Retired teacher Jackie Gibbs said she would probably vote Conservative at the next election, but was in two minds about whether Mr Johnson should lead the party.
She added: “If you want someone who can persuade people to vote for you, he’s probably the best. If you want someone more consistent in his decision-making, then probably not.”
Deli worker Maria Melucci said: “People are unhappy with everything. Boris is a mini Trump. He is very lucky to have good people around him. I like Rishi Sunak.”
Voters in the constituency praised the vaccine rollout, furlough and support for business, but concern is growing over the Omicron variant’s potential impact on Christmas and the rising cost of living.
Clifford Eton, who runs the Caffe Papavero chain, welcomed the Tory win. On Mr Johnson, he said: “It’s not an easy job for anyone. If Rishi Sunak was in that position he would be in the same situation.”
Louise Dawson runs Flowers of Bexley in the High Street. Her family used to support the Conservatives, but she ruled out voting for Mr Johnson’s party, or Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour.
She said: “They say they’re for the people, but none of them are. I would look for an alternative rather than the main parties. The Tories and Labour don’t live in the real world. They don’t live our lives.”
Instead, Louise said she would consider voting for Reform UK, whose leader Richard Tice stood in the by-election, securing 6.6 percent of the vote.
He told The Telegraph that the reduction in the Tory majority in Old Bexley and Sidcup was “a rejection of Boris Johnson personally” because the PM is viewed as a “liability, not an asset” in Tory heartlands.