Politics RECAP: Former leader of Conservative Party Michael Howard calls for Boris Johnson to resign

Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson after the Conservatives lost by elections in Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield, making it the first time in more than 30 years that a government has lost two by-elections on the same day.

Oliver Dowden has resigned as chairman of the Conservative Party after it suffered two by-election defeats, saying in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson that “someone must take responsibility”.

Hide Ad

In Tiverton and Honiton the Liberal Democrats overturned a 24,000 Tory majority to win, while in Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7% from the Tories to Labour.

Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey celebrates with Richard Foord (right), the newly-elected Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election
Hide Ad
Read More
Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield: Boris Johnson and Conservatives suffer double ...

Wakefield was one of the so-called red wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being Labour since the 1930s.

Hide Ad

Boris Johnson has said he will “listen” to voters but will “keep going” after the Tories suffered a double by-election defeat.

Politics LIVE: Pressure mounts on Boris Johnson as Oliver Dowden resigns as Tory chair after Conservatives lose two by-elections

Show new updates

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Prime Minister told her the Government is “cracking on with task” after the double by-election defeats.

Asked what Boris Johnson said to her following the results, she told LBC: “The fact of the matter is that we’re cracking on with the task.”

Pressed on what the PM said, she said: “Yes, exactly that, absolutely, that we are carrying on, working to grow our economy and address the cost of living… and providing the leadership that we need in challenging times.

“We do that collectively, we really do as one Government working together.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has described the Conservative party losses in the by-elections being the result of a “perfect storm”.

Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, he said: “My view is that the by-elections, both of them, were the result of the perfect storm of very difficult local scenarios, given the situations of the previously sitting Conservative MPs, plus the national headwinds, first of all, inevitably, for a mid-term government, but also, frankly, the distractions that we’ve had.

“I think the Prime Minister put it well: we need to listen very carefully, we need to take that feedback.

“I think (with) Tiverton, the most striking thing is how many of our supporters didn’t come out. We need to spend the next two years absolutely relentlessly focused on delivering our plan, without those distractions and with a real calm focus on delivering.”

Mr Raab defended the Prime Minister, who broke his own covid lockdown rules.

Sir Keir Starmer said the Conservatives were “absolutely imploding” following the resignation of Tory party co-chairman Oliver Dowden.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meets with new Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood as the party reclaimed the West Yorkshire seat from the Conservatives in the Wakefield by-election

Full results of Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

Liberal Democrat gain from Conservatives.

Richard Foord (LD) 22,537 (52.91%, +38.14%)

Helen Hurford (C) 16,393 (38.49%, -21.72%)

Liz Pole (Lab) 1,562 (3.67%, -15.88%)

Gill Westcott (Green) 1,064 (2.50%, -1.34%)

Andy Foan (Reform) 481 (1.13%)

Ben Walker (UKIP) 241 (0.57%, -1.06%)

Jordan Donoghue-Morgan (Heritage) 167 (0.39%)

Frankie Rufolo (FB) 146 (0.34%)

LD maj 6,144 (14.43%)

29.93% swing C to LD

Electorate 81,661; Turnout 42,591 (52.16%, -19.71%)

2019: C maj 24,239 (40.66%) – Turnout 59,613 (71.86%) Parish (C) 35,893 (60.21%); Pole (Lab) 11,654 (19.55%); Timperley (LD) 8,807 (14.77%); Reed (Green) 2,291 (3.84%); Dennis (UKIP) 968 (1.62%)

Former Conservative MP and minister Rory Stewart said Oliver Dowden’s resignation “feels like the beginning of the end” for Boris Johnson.

Sharing a copy of Mr Dowden’s resignation letter, he tweeted: “A devastating resignation for Boris Johnson because it comes from one of his earliest and most passionate supporters, who backed many of his cultural fights, and risked his reputation defending him for years.

“This feels like the beginning of the end.”

Boris Johnson spoke to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris by phone after Oliver Dowden’s resignation, a Tory party source said.

The Tory source added: “He’s not going to be leaving, this is too important, he’s going onto the G7 on the basis that the biggest challenge is to get the UK and families through extremely tough economic times.

“To not be at the G7 would be an abdication of responsibility for any prime minister.”

The source said Mr Johnson was swimming in his hotel pool by 6am Kigali-time and then received the warning call from Mr Dowden before his 7am meeting.

Mr Johnson was said to be surprised by the resignation and believes there is “no rush” in replacing him as party co-chairman.

The source was attributing some blame for the electoral losses on the “nonsense” of the media’s “endless reportage and Kremlinology of partygate”.

Asked if he feared Mr Dowden was acting as an outrider for a possible leadership challenge from someone like the Chancellor, the source said: “What do I know, but I’d be astonished if it was the Chancellor.

“The PM spoke to the Chancellor this morning as he does almost every morning.”

Sir Keir Starmer has said that “if the Tories had any decency they would get out the way for the next Labour government”, as he celebrated the party’s by-election win in Wakefield.

The Labour leader met campaigners at Ossett Market on Friday alongside newly-elected Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood.

Mr Lightwood was elected to the West Yorkshire seat with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7% from the Tories to Labour.

Sir Keir told supporters in Ossett: “What a judgment this is on the Tories and Boris Johnson – out of touch, out of ideas, and if they had any decency they would get out the way for the sake of the country.

“When we do form that next Labour government, and we’re going to do it, Wakefield will go down as the birthplace of that.”

Sir Robert Buckland said he has told Boris Johnson personally that the Prime Minister needs to “look in the mirror and do better” as he told Sky News the Conservative Party is “about more than one man”.

The former Lord Chancellor admitted it was “frustrating” for those on the party’s sidelines to see a “lack of focus” from the Government, but he stopped short of calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation, saying he did not believe “throwing over the captain now” would be the right response.

“What is frustrating for those of us now on the side, if you like, is that lack of focus and a real sense of a coordinated message here about what the Government is doing and what it needs to do,” he said.

“The Conservative Party is a broad coalition of people who have different views across the centre right in politics. We need to reflect that far, far better – we’re not a sect, we’re not some iconoclastic tribe trying to overthrow the state.”

The Liberal Democrats needed a swing of at least 22.8 percentage points to win Tiverton & Honiton – in other words, 23 in every 100 people in the constituency who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election needed to switch directly to the Lib Dems.

In the event they managed a swing of 29.9 points: large enough to rank as the sixth biggest swing against a government since 1945 in a by-election that saw a change in both party and MP.

The biggest swing of this kind took place in July 1993 at the Christchurch by-election, which was won by the Lib Dems on a 35.4 point swing from the Conservatives.

Boris Johnson said he would take responsibility, but insisted the cost-of-living crisis was the most important issue for voters and it is “true that, in mid-term, governments post-war lose by-elections”.

“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,” he said at the conference centre in Kigali.

“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’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.”

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Mr Johnson added: “I, of course, take responsibility for the electoral performance of the Government.”

Boris Johnson has said he will “keep going” after the Conservatives lost in two by-elections (Photo: Getty Images)
Page 2 of 4