Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces voters in very different parliamentary seats on Thursday and risks losing all three contests in what would be the worst one-day mid-term result for any British governing party in more than half a century.
The votes are one of few remaining opportunities to gauge public support before a national election expected next year, and a chance to assess if the opposition Labour Party can convert their run of double-digit poll leads into victories.
Sunak, a former finance minister and investment banker, has cultivated an image as a technocrat who can solve complex policy challenges. But he has failed to fully shake off his party’s chaotic past.
The elections are to fill seats vacated by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who resigned as an MP last month after he was found to have misled parliament over parties held in Downing Street during the coronavirus pandemic and an ally who resigned in solidarity.
A third vote is being held after a member of parliament quit over allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use.
The results of the so-called by-elections are expected to come in the early hours of Friday.
If Sunak loses all three votes it would suggest his party was in danger of losing power at the next election as members of the public express their frustrations over stubbornly high inflation, rising taxes and economic stagnation.
The last time a governing party lost three by-elections in a single day was in 1968.
The prime minister’s popularity is at the lowest level since he was appointed in October, according to a YouGov poll published on Wednesday. About two-thirds of voters currently have an unfavourable view of Sunak, the poll found.
The betting odds suggest the Conservatives will lose all three elections, even though the party won large majorities in two of them in 2019.
The Conservatives won the constituency of Selby and Ainsty in northern England with a majority of 20,137 at the last general election. Labour said if it won the seat it would mark the biggest majority the party has overturned at a by-election since World War Two.
In Somerton and Frome in southwest England, the opposition Liberal Democrats are hoping to overturn a Conservative majority of 19,213.
In Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip on the western fringes of London, Labour is seeking to overturn a Conservative majority of 7,210.
Asked if the prime minister was confident of winning the three seats, a spokeswoman for Sunak said by-elections were historically difficult for governments, and the contest that the Conservatives were most focused on was the general election.