THE polls are open in three by-elections in Conservative Westminster seats in what is seen as a crucial test of Rishi Sunak's underwhelming stint as Prime Minister. Voters are going to the polls in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in Greater London, Somerton and Frome in Somerset, and Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire, the last of which is close to Sunak's own constituency of Richmond (Yorks).

Uxbridge and South Ruislip was the seat of the former Prime Liar Boris Johnson who resigned as an MP in June after the Commons Privileges Committee found that he had deliberately misled the House of Commons over the so-called Partygate affair – and had then misled the Committee during the hearing into the allegations that he'd misled Parliament. He then compounded the offence by acting in contempt of the Committee through a "campaign of abuse and intimidation".

Johnson then resigned as an MP rather than face the humiliation of a recall by-election which he was very likely to lose, and going down in the history books as the first former Prime Minister to be recalled by his own constituents and then booted out of the Commons.

The National: More than one in ten people who voted for Brexit but have since changed their minds said they felt lied to by Leave campaigners like Boris Johnson

Had Johnson been a normal Prime Minister he would still be in Downing Street, on the back of the bomb-proof eighty-plus majority that he won for the Conservatives in 2019. But Johnson's downfall is due to the fact that he does not respect the norms that underpin democracy, and neither does the Conservative Party.

It speaks volumes about the moral vacuum that the Conservative Party has become that it saw fit to elevate the integrity free zone of Johnson to the highest office and that many Conservatives continue to defend him. Sunak, who came to office promising to restore accountability, integrity and professionalism after the serial lies of Johnson and the deluded car crash of Liz Truss, is too weak and timid to pass any public comment about it all.

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The Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election was always going to be difficult for the Tories. Johnson won the seat in 2019 with a majority of 7210 and the seat voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, but polls suggest that opposition to Brexit in the constituency has grown since then and that a majority would now vote against it. Labour are confident that it can take the seat, and a couple of polls taken since the by-election was called have put them in the lead.

The by-election in Somerton and Frome was called after the sitting Conservative MP David Warburton, who had the Tory whip suspended following three allegations of sexual harassment which were to be investigated by Commons authorities.

Warburton resigned as an MP in June, claiming that he was being denied a fair hearing over the harassment allegations, which he continues to deny. However in a newspaper interview he admitted to using cocaine and announced that he was standing down as an MP. His seat is considered one of the safest Conservative seats. Warburton won it in 2019 with over 55% of votes cast and a majority of 19,213. The LibDems came a distant second but they have thrown everything into the by-election campaign and have high hopes of snatching the seat from the Tories.

The National: David Warburton was MP for Somerton and Frome (David Woolfall/UK Parliament/PA)

Selby and Ainsty is on paper another rock-solid Conservative seat. The by-election was called after sitting MP Nigel Adams, a close ally of Johnson, resigned as an MP after it was reported that Sunak had blocked the peerage Johnson had nominated him for. Adams had a majority of over 20,000 – which Labour hopes to overturn. If they are able to do so it would be devastating for the Conservatives and a sign that Labour is able to threaten them in rural seats as well as in the urban constituencies.

There ought to have been a fourth by-election today, in the Mid Bedfordshire constituency of Nadine Dorries, another close ally of Johnson. Like Adams, Dorries announced in June that she was standing down as an MP after it was reported that Sunak had blocked the peerage Johnson had nominated her for. Although Dorries announced that she was resigning "with immediate effect", she still has not done so. Add resignation to the long list of things that Dorries cannot do competently.

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Tory expectation management is out in force today, saying that the party would consider it a victory if it hangs on to just one of the three seats up for contention. However, a poor showing for the Tories will certainly undermine Sunak's already shaky grasp on his party's leadership. But he will still cling on, if only because the Conservatives know there is no alternative waiting in the wings. However, it will only confirm the sense that this is a zombie government, staggering on until the electorate puts it out of its misery at the next General Election, at which point the hard right will seek to consolidate its hold on the party and complete its transformation into an extreme right-wing populist nationalist authoritarian party.

Isn't the BBC due an attack on Scotland's NHS?

NHS consultants in England go on strike, causing thousands of appointments to be postponed. It is a strike which does not affect the NHS north of the Border, so expect BBC Scotland to dredge up an attack story in order to distract from the fact that the Scottish Government manages the NHS markedly more competently than the Conservatives in England.

And right on cue BBC Scotland reports on problems found in NHS Scotland building projects. It's drearily predictable from the so-called national broadcaster. It gives us a constant stream of tedious, endless, overhyped negativity, always looking for an angle to say how rubbish Scotland is.

Don't you dare get ideas above your station, Scotland.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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