Boris Johnson on Friday suffered a double blow as the Conservatives lost two parliamentary by-elections just weeks after the prime minister survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
In Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, formerly represented by Tory Neil Parish who held a 24,239-vote majority, Liberal Democrat Richard Foord defeated the Conservatives’ Helen Hurford by 6,144 votes.
In West Yorkshire, Labour regained Wakefield after Simon Lightwood beat his Conservative rival Nadeem Ahmed. Lightwood received 13,166 votes, raising the party’s share of the vote by more than 8 percentage points compared with the 2019 general election. Ahmed, in second place, attracted 8,241 votes as the Tory share of the vote fell by 17 percentage points.
The by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton were triggered by the resignation of disgraced Tory MPs after weeks of negative headlines for the prime minister and his government on a range of issues from the “partygate scandal” to the cost of living crisis.
The by-election results prompted the resignation of Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party chair, who said the Tories could not “carry on with business as usual”.
“Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office,” he said in a letter to Johnson published on Twitter on Friday morning.
The Conservatives won Wakefield in 2019 for the first time since 1931. But Imran Ahmad Khan, stepped down as the Tory MP in April year after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said the result proved that 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.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said that his party’s win in Tiverton and Honiton ought to be a “wake-up call” for Tory MPs. “They cannot afford to ignore this result,” he said. “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.”
On Thursday, Johnson brushed off suggestions that he should step down if the Tories lost both by-elections. “Are you crazy?” the prime minister asked. “Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in midterm.”
Johnson, who narrowly won a confidence vote among Tory MPs by 211 votes to 148 this month, has attempted to steer his premiership back on course through a series of eye-catching policy proposals aimed at wooing Tory voters.
But the loss of Tiverton and Honiton, which had been held by the Conservatives since its creation in 1997, will stoke greater concern among Tory MPs in the south of England fearful of a Lib Dem resurgence in “blue wall” seats.
The constituency also became vacant in April when Parish stood down after admitting that he had watched pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber.