Boris Johnson has suffered a double by-election defeat and seen the chairman of the Tory party resign his post, claiming that the government “cannot go on with business as usual”.
The results of the by-election votes, held on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum, arrived within less than ten minutes of each other, at either side of 4am on Friday.
In Wakefield, where a Labour victory had been largely expected, Simon Lightwood, won by 4,925 votes. The swing to Labour of just over eight per cent will be a boost for Keir Starmer who has been in the doldrums of late.
The previous MP, Imran Ahmad, resigned after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
In the Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, Richard Foord saw a massive 30 per cent swing to the Lib Dems, taking 22,537 votes to 6,144 for the Conservatives.
More alarming than the defeats for the Conservatives will be the scale of tactical voting.
Labour’s vote in Tiverton fell to just 1,562 votes and the Lib Dems come seventh in Wakefield as supporters abandoned traditional loyalties to form anti-Tory coalitions in both constituencies.
The results triggered the immediate resignation of Oliver Dowden who walked out as the party’s elections supremo aiming a powerful assassination letter at Boris Johnson.
Dowden wrote: “Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings.”
“We cannot 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.”
The letter could prove to be more damaging for the Prime Minister than the by-election defeats if other senior Tories move against him.
Before he left for a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda on Thursday Johnson said it would be “crazy” for him to quit if the by-elections went against him.
The Prime Minister survived a vote of no confidence earlier this month, with 148 Tory MPs voting to remove him compared to 211 who backed him.
Technically Tory MPs cannot move against the Prime Minister for another year but if Dowden’s resignation letter triggers a cabinet coup he could be in trouble.
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