or Louie French, the home grown Conservative candidate bidding to join Boris Johnson’s troubled Tory ranks – the last few weeks of sleaze and chaos at Westminster have drawn an unexpected response from voters.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister has stumbled from crisis to crisis, with Conservative backbenchers rebelling over plans to water down social care reforms and accusations of broken promises over railways.
It all culminated in a bizarre speech to business leaders last Monday where the Prime Minister lost his way before launching a surreal tribute to Peppa Pig, sparking fresh concerns over Mr Johnson and his Number 10 operation.
It is against this febrile backdrop that Mr French, a 33-year-old investment portfolio manager and Tory councillor, will attempt to extend the Conservative Party’s long grip on the south east London seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup on Thursday.
A true blue constituency, the area was represented by former Prime Minister Ted Heath for over five decades. And while the boundaries of the seat have shifted slightly down the years the Tories’ dominance has not.
It was most recently served by James Brokenshire, the popular former Northern Ireland Secretary who died of cancer in October aged just 53, triggering this week’s by-election.
A wealthy, leafy London suburb, the 2011 census by the Office for National Statistics show 80 per cent of people own their own homes and 10 per cent work in higher managerial and professional jobs.
While Mr Johnson’s promise to get Brexit done and level up the country might have attracted new Red Wall voters in the North and Midlands in 2019, it is places like this which have long been the foundation stone of Tory majorities in Parliament.
There seems little chance of that long line of Conservative victories being broken on Thursday – it would require a 20 per cent swing to Labour for Mr French to lose – but the vote will offer the first opportunity to assess the level of any public discontent over Mr Johnson’s Autumn blues.
“People know I am not involved with it,” he says. “They know I have said very clearly, I am not going to take a second job.
Faced with awkward questions himself over his current role as a portfolio manager for Mayfair investment firm Tilney, Mr French was forced to make it clear that, if elected, he would give up his ‘second job’ in financial services.
“I am not going to deny it and say it hasn’t come up but it’s nowhere near as much as crime, transport and health issues. They know I am no part of the Westminster stuff that’s been going on.”
Some voters on Sidcup High Street don’t quite see it that way.
Standing outside the Cake Box Bakery, Susan Bibby says: “People are very disappointed with Boris. He doesn’t live up to what he promises. He’s lied on so many issues.”
Another woman, who gave her name only as Ms Andrews, said she and her friends in the area now had “buyer’s remorse” over Brexit – adding that she was “confused” about who to back next week.
“A lot of people were misled about Brexit and what was actually going to happen,” she said while she waited to have a Covid jab outside a vaccination centre opposite Sidcup Library.
“I voted Leave and a lot of parents up at my kids’ school are regretting it. Everything’s going up in price, we are all struggling, we didn’t realise the full impact of what it actually meant.”
It is that sort of concern over the cost of living and imminent tax rises that the Labour candidate Daniel Francis is hoping to capitalise on.
“We are hearing a lot of disillusionment with the Government and people who very clearly want to send the Government a message next week,” he says.
Mr Francis acknowledges the size of the task he faces in winning next week. He insists, however, that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has started to turn the tide.
“People felt the Labour Party left them between 2015 and 2019 and what we are hearing on the doorstep is that under Keir’s leadership we are going back in the right direction,” he adds.
Back on Sidcup High Street, Sara Young, a pre school practitioner who backed the Tories in 2019, described the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI last week as “shambolic” and said this time she would be voting for Labour.
Paul Caheny – a City worker who has already cast his postal vote for the Tories – said that while Labour leader Sir Keir was more credible than former leader Jeremy Corbyn, he still had his doubts. “He’s Captain Hindsight,” he says, parroting an attack line loved by Mr Johnson. “He’s always wise after the event.”
Another Tory voter Julian Tighe says of the Prime Minister: “I am not sure he is the leader I would want for the country. However I don’t think the opposition is strong enough.”
The other big unknown in this week’s contest is the impact the Reform Party will have. The successor to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Reform is campaigning hard in Sidcup and Bexley, putting up its leader Richard Tice as candidate. He is hoping to exploit disaffection with traditional Conservative voters who are worried about rising taxes and a failure to get a grip with the immigration crisis.
As an area which strongly backed Leave in the 2016 EU referendum – 63 per cent voted for Brexit – Mr Tice senses a chance to expose Mr Johnson’s right flank and lay down a marker ahead of the next general election.
“Boris has become a liability on the doorstep,” Mr Tice says. “Many people say our policies are the real Conservative party. We are very clear you have got to cut taxes for the lowest paid… Having a zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration. People are sick and tired of hearing warm words, waffle and no action.”
Next Thursday’s by-election is the first in a series of Parliamentary votes in the coming weeks which will offer an insight into how the electorate is feeling about the Government’s current performance.
And while interpreting mid-term by-elections is always difficult, experts say any swing away from the Conservatives or a low turnout from Tory voters will be seen as a warning for Mr Johnson.
“Generally if people are really angry they will go out and vote against that particularly party,” says Tory peer and polling export Lord Hayward. “If they take the view that all politicians are as bad as each other they will show their disdain by abstaining.”
For a full list of candidates in the by election visit here.