By-election goes against pressure on Boris Johnson’s leadership

The defeat in two by-elections and the surprise resignation of the Conservative Party co-chairman threatened to plunge Boris Johnson’s leadership into a new crisis. The prime minister was determined not to go anywhere on Friday as he defended his post as prime minister at a Commonwealth leaders’ summit 4,000 miles away in Rwanda.

“There will still be tough times ahead, no doubt people will continue to beat me and say this or that to attack me,” Mr Johnson said. “That’s good, that’s absolutely true, that’s the job of politicians. In the end, the voters, the journalists, they have no one else to complain to, I have to accept that.

The prime minister also insisted that such defeats were typical of midterm governments.

But the resignation of Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden, after the Tories lost their former stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats and Wakefield to Labour, has reignited questions within the Conservative Party about whether and during how long Mr Johnson can hang on as leader.

Mr Dowden resigned as Conservative Party co-chairman, saying he and Tory supporters were ‘distressed and disappointed by recent events’ and telling Mr Johnson that ‘someone has to take responsibility’. Former Tory leader Michael Howard also urged the Prime Minister to step down for the good of his party and the nation, and urged the Cabinet to consider stepping down to force him out.

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While Mr Johnson said he was confident his own side was not plotting to oust him as he attended the summit, before heading to the G7 in Germany, some party members voiced their criticism.

Some 324 Tories were elected in 2019 with majorities smaller than that obtained by Neil Parish in the constituencies of Tiverton and Honiton. His resignation for viewing pornography in Parliament triggered this by-election.

Veteran Tory Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who retained his seat in the Cotswolds with a majority of 20,000 in the last vote, has raised concerns he could lose his job in the upcoming general election, while former cabinet minister Jesse Norman accused him of insulting the electorate. Veteran Tory MP and longtime critic of Mr Johnson, Sir Roger Gale, said the Prime Minister had ‘trashed’ the reputation of the party.

Despite some early speculation following the by-election results, Mr Dowden was the only cabinet minister to tender his resignation.

That hasn’t stopped Tory rebels from using by-election defeats as a springboard for the latest uprising attempt against the Prime Minister, with the Times reporting that opponents of Mr Johnson are planning to take control of the MPs’ committee. 1922 Conservative backbenchers in a bid to change the rules to allow another vote of confidence in his leadership.

Mr Dowden’s departure could also lead to a reshuffle in the prime minister’s leadership team, with reports that Priti Patel could be asked to step down as home secretary to become party chair. The Sun also reports that Matt Hancock, who resigned the day after photographs emerged of him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo, could potentially return to Cabinet.

Sir Keir Starmer said on Friday Wakefield would go down in history as the ‘birthplace’ of the next Labor government. In West Yorkshire, Labor retook Wakefield with a majority of 4,925 votes on a 12.7% Conservative swing. Wakefield was one of the so-called red wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being Labor since the 1930s.

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