Boris Johnson accused of ‘hiding away’ during Tiverton and Honiton by-election campaign visit

Did he venture further afield than “Ditchetts Farm” ? Was Alison Hernandez “stood up” by BoJo? Where are the adoring throngs of voters? – Owl

[He also got a “mixed reception” reception at the Royal Cornwall Show, a member of the staff said:  “I think on balance there was still more cheering than booing…..”]

Ashley Cowburn 

Boris Johnson has been accused of “hiding away from people” during a brief visit to Tiverton and Honiton, as the Conservatives fight to hold on to the seat at the upcoming by-election.

The Liberal Democrats criticised the prime minister’s low-key visit to the Devon constituency after he was spotted meeting party candidate Helen Hurford and a small group of farmers for tea.

Tory officials shared a photo of Mr Johnson at Ditchetts Farm in Tiverton, and the National Farming Union (NFU) said the PM had discussed food security with local officials.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The fact is he’s not talking to ordinary people. No one seems to know where he is. He’s hiding away from people and I think that says it all. He’s taking this constituency for granted.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr Johnson received a mixture of cheers and boos during a surprise visit to the Royal Cornwall Show near Wadebridge in Cornwall.

One member of the show staff said Mr Johnson had received a “mixed reception”, but added: “I think on balance there was still more cheering than booing… I don’t think he minded; he’s got a hide like a rhinoceros.”

Mr Johnson was pictured at the show alongside the environment secretary George Eustice, just hours before the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were due to arrive.

Tory MPs and No 10 officials have shared concerns that the seat could fall to the Lib Dems when voters head to the polls on 23 June, despite posting a huge majority at the 2019 general election.

The by-election was triggered after the resignation of the former Conservative MP Neil Parish, who became the focus of a political storm after admitting watching pornography on his phone in the Commons chamber.

Despite the largely rural seat voting overwhelmingly for the Tories at the 2019 election – the party’s majority was over 24,000 – officials are concerned the seat could fall to Davey’s party in a fortnight.

The Lib Dems are seeking to capitalise on the ongoing concern over the prime minister’s precarious position and deep anger over the Partygate scandal, which resulted in Mr Johnson being fined by the Metropolitan Police.

With Mr Johnson’s position in No 10 under the spotlight after Monday’s confidence vote, a defeat in Tiverton and Honiton in 13 days’ time could reignite calls for his resignation.

Earlier this week the Tory candidate for Tiverton and Honiton refused to say how she would have voted in the no-confidence ballot on Mr Johnson’s leadership had she been an MP.

Ms Hurford, a former headteacher, described the question as “irrelevant”, saying she was not “in Westminster” and adding that it was time to “move forward” after the prime minister narrowly survived the vote on Monday.

On the same day, another by-election will be held in Wakefield – triggered after the resignation of a Tory MP found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old.

The former Labour stronghold voted for the Conservatives at the 2019 general election, but is widely expected to be regained by Sir Keir Starmer’s party on 23 June.