Boris Johnson’s premiership has been plunged into yet another crisis with the Conservative party chairman Oliver Dowden resigning in the immediate wake of double by-election defeats.
The Liberal Democrats overturned a 24,000 Conservative majority in Tiverton and Honiton to inflict the Tories’ biggest by-election defeat in British political history. Labour piled on the pressure on Johnson by winning back the ‘Red Wall’ Wakefield seat.
Johnson has responded to the crushing defeats – just weeks after surviving a no confidence vote in his leadership – saying he will “reflect on voters’ concerns” but would “keep going”.
However, Oliver Dowden, who quit as Tory party in the early hours of this morning, said “someone must take responsibility” as he pointedly pledged his support to the party rather than the PM.
It is a remarkable turnaround by the former-party chairman as Dowden gave his full backing to Johnson in the no-confidence vote just 18 days ago. Stepping down today, Dowden said he and Conservative supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events”.
Johnson – who is in Rwanda for the heads of Commonwealth summit – said he will take responsibility for the results but asserted the cost of living crisis, as opposed to his leadership, is the most important thing for voters.
“It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough by-election results, they’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise voters are going through a tough time at the moment,” Johnson told reporters. “I think as a government I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which I think for most people is the number one issue.
“We’re now facing pressures on the cost of living, we’re seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs. That’s hitting people. We’ve got to recognise there is more we’ve got to do and we certainly will, we will keep going, addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.”
When asked before boarding his flight to Rwanda if he was considering his future as PM, Johnson replied: “Are you crazy?”
Tory MPs ‘can’t afford to ignore’ by-election defeats
In the Tiverton and Honiton by-election the Lib Dems sensationally wiped out the Tories’ 24,239 majority to win the seat by 6,144 votes. It marks the biggest ever Conservative majority overturned in a by-election – representing a 30% swing to the Lib Dems that will have spooked Tory MPs. Until yesterday’s poll, the Conservatives had held the ‘true-blue’ Tiverton and Honiton seat for 99 years.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said his party’s victory ought to be a “wake-up call” for Conservative MPs who “cannot afford to ignore this result.”
Davey told reporters: “The public is sick of Boris Johnson’s lies and lawbreaking and it’s time for Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and sack him.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer echoed the comments after his party won back the Wakefield seat lost to the Conservatives in 2019. Labour achieved a 12.7% swing from the Tories with Simon Lightwood elected as MP with a 4,925 majority.
Starmer said the result shows the “country has lost confidence in the Tories. This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative party that has run out of energy and ideas.”