Johnson Risks Cut to U.K. Majority in First Electoral Test

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(Bloomberg) --

Boris Johnson is facing his first test at the ballot box since becoming U.K. prime minister in a by-election in the Welsh district of Brecon and Radnorshire on Thursday.

The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats are favorites with bookmakers. If they win, Johnson’s paper working majority in the House of Commons would be reduced to just one, making his balancing act more difficult as he seeks to deliver Brexit on Oct. 31 -- with or without an EU deal.

The premier’s Conservative Party is defending an 8,038-vote majority in the seat, which became vacant after Conservative Member of Parliament Chris Davies was convicted of faking expenses claims and was forced out by a recall petition. The local Tory Party selected Davies to stand again in Thursday’s vote, despite his conviction.

Johnson, whose strategy has been to commit to leaving the EU “come what may” by Halloween in a bid to win back voters who defected to the Brexit Party in the European elections in May, visited the constituency on Tuesday to support the campaign.

The Brexit Party is running a candidate in the election and the result, in a district which is estimated to have voted 52% - 48% vote for Leave in the 2016 referendum, will give an indication of how well Johnson’s strategy is cutting through with voters.

The Liberal Democrats see the vote as a chance to capitalize on their resurgence since their poll ratings were decimated following five years in coalition with the Conservatives that ended in 2015. The party, which last week elected Jo Swinson their new leader, won 20% of the vote in May’s European Parliament election and their national support has been at about the same level in recent surveys.

Neither Plaid Cymru, which campaigns for Welsh independence, nor the Green Party put up a candidate, instead urging their supporters to vote Liberal Democrat to maximize the chances of sending a “Remain” MP to Westminster.

Polls close at 10 p.m. on Thursday evening and the result is expected in the early hours of Friday morning.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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