Boris Johnson has been dealt a double hammer blow to his authority after the Conservatives lost the Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton by-elections that same night, forcing Oliver Dowden, the party chairman, to resign.
Labor took Wakefield while the Liberal Democrats destroyed a majority of more than 24,000 to get hold of Tiverton and Honiton.
The Tiverton and Honiton result, with the Lib Dem candidate, Richard Foord, beating the Tories’ Helen Hurford by 6,144 votes to gain a constituency that has been conservative in its various forms for over a century, is considered the largest numerical majority ever destroyed in a by-election.
A Labor win in Wakefield was more expected as Labor had consistently taken the seat for the 2019 election, but the Conservatives’ 4,925 majority for Simon Lightwood against Nadeem Ahmed is a major boost for Keir Starmer in the battle for the seats. to reclaim the ‘red wall’. †
Johnson is in Rwanda for the summit of Commonwealth heads of government before traveling to the G7 and NATO summits in Germany and Spain to keep him out of the country for the next week. But in his absence, the double loss could prompt Tory backbenchers to make further attempts to take him out.
Johnson told broadcasters in Kigali the results were the result of “many things”, including pressure on the cost of living, and pledged to continue.
“We have to recognize that there is more that we need to do and we certainly will, we will continue and address people’s concerns until we get through this patch,” he said.
In a letter to Johnson, Dowden said the midterm elections were “the latest in a series of very poor results for our party”, adding: “Our supporters are saddened and disappointed by the recent events, and I share their feelings.
“We cannot continue with business as usual. Someone has to take responsibility and I have come to the conclusion that under these circumstances it would not be right for me to remain in office.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a former MP who sits on the board of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said colleagues may need to “take steps to get a new prime minister”.
He said: “I will consider what my members say, I will then discuss this matter extensively with my colleagues. We will hear what the Prime Minister says, and then we will undoubtedly have to make some difficult decisions.”
The Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, said the Tiverton and Honiton result meant it was time for Tory MPs to “finally do the right thing” and impeach the Prime Minister.
He said: “This should be a wake-up call to all those Conservative MPs who support Boris Johnson. They cannot afford to ignore this result.”
Keir Starmer said the Wakefield win shows that the country has “lost faith in the Tories”. “This result is a clear judgment of a conservative party that has run out of energy and ideas,” he said.
After Johnson won a confidence vote following controversies over breaking Downing Street parties, party rules mean he is officially safe from a similar challenge for a year. However, these rules are subject to change.
The results came in within less than ten minutes of each other, on either side of four a.m. First came Wakefield, where Lightwood won easily by 13,166 votes, against 8,241 for Ahmed, a blow to Labor’s 12%.
In Tiverton and Honiton, Foord oversaw a 30% move to the Lib Dems, taking 22,537 votes to 16,393 for Hurford.
The Tory candidate, who had endured an at times grueling campaign, locked herself in a room set aside for media interviews on the West Devon census, reportedly refusing to speak to the press.
In his victory speech, Foord thanked voters in the constituency, including Labor supporters who, he said, had “borrowed” their support to help him win.
The scale of tactical voting, with Labor getting 1,562 votes in Tiverton and Honiton, while the Lib Dem candidate in Wakefield got just 508, will further alarm Conservative officials and MPs.
The by-elections were called after the respective MPs resigned in disgrace. Imran Ahmad Khan resigned in Wakefield after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager, while Neil Parish stopped in Tiverton and Honiton after viewing pornography in the Commons.
The result is another milestone for the Lib Dems, who took North Shropshire’s equally rural, Brexit-promoting Tory seat in a by-election in December and overthrew a Tory majority of nearly 23,000 after former MP Owen Paterson stepped down over a lobbying scandal .
This followed a win for the Lib Dems last June in Chesham and Amersham, a commuter constituency in north-west London. Johnson among the more liberal-minded conservative voters.
Feeling that Johnson is no longer an electoral asset, coupled with the parties, could lead Tory MPs resolutely against the prime minister, although a new challenge for the fall is seen as unlikely.