Boris Johnson has insisted he will “stay at number 10” despite the Conservative party’s crushing double midterm election losses in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield.
The Prime Minister pledged to “listen” to voters after Liberals overthrew a 24,000 Tory majority in Devon and Labor recaptured the West Yorkshire seat by nearly 5,000 votes.
“It’s absolutely true that we’ve had some tough midterm election results,” he said. “They’ve been, I think, a reflection of many things, but we have to recognize that voters are going through a tough time right now.”
Speaking in Rwanda where he is attending the Commonwealth summit, Mr Johnson said: “I need to listen to what people are saying, especially the difficulties people are facing because of the cost of living.”
The prime minister said it was the “number one issue” and added: “We have to recognize that there is more we need to do and we certainly will, we will continue and address people’s concerns until we get through this patch.”
Johnson also thanked outgoing Tory chairman Oliver Dowden after his shocking resignation on Friday morning. In a clear reference to Partygate, Mr Dowden said he shared the sentiments of Tory supporters who were “disturbed and disappointed by recent events”.
A source close to the prime minister, who will face further trips to the G7 and NATO summits in the coming days, told Politico he was in no rush to run home to replace Mr Dowden as Tory chairman.
“He has a big job to do and he is doing it. Don’t opt out of the G7 when the world is facing an economic storm, nor NATO when there is a war in Europe.”
Tory colleague Lord Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff at No. 10, said if the Conservative Party continues with Mr Johnson at the head it would be “sleepwalking towards defeat in the next election”.
Barwell said it was not too late for Tory MPs to replace their leader – he interpreted Mr Dowden’s departure as a damaging blow to the Prime Minister’s authority. “I’m glad someone in the cabinet saw that and finally did something about it.”
Former No. 10 adviser Tim Montgomerie said the “huge” result in Tiverton showed Johnson had to leave. “This is a crisis for the Conservative Party,” he told Sky News.
He told Sky News that voters “rejected the character of the Prime Minister. And if the Conservatives don’t act quickly… the entire Conservative party will be condemned. We cannot let this situation continue”.
James Johnson, former No. 10 pollster, said there was “only one person to blame” for the Wakefield result – pointing to Mr Johnson and Partygate as the main reason voters chose Labour.
The Lib Dems were victorious in Devon, where Richard Foord overcame a Tory majority of 24,239 votes, winning by over 6,000 – the largest majority ever destroyed in a by-election.
Mr Foord used his victory speech to call on Mr Johnson to “go and go now”, saying the result showed voters think “enough is enough”.
Leader Sir Ed Davey told LBC: “The message from Tiverton and Honiton, the people here in Devon, is that Boris Johnson must go. I think they have spoken on behalf of the entire British people and it really is time for him to leave.”
Labor’s Simon Lightwood won in Wakefield after taking the West Yorkshire seat by nearly 5,000 votes, overturning a smaller Conservative lead of 3,358 votes.
Sir Keir Starmer said the result showed the country “has lost confidence in the Tories” and that his party is “ready for government”.
In his victory speech at Wakefield, Mr Lightwood said the result showed that Labor was “rebuilding the red wall”, adding: “The next Labor government was born in this room tonight.”