Boris Johnson has said he will “keep going” after his authority was dealt a series of blows by a double by-election defeat which triggered the resignation of the Tory party chairman.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that losing the former Tory stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton to the Lib Dems as well as surrendering Wakefield to Labour was “tough”, but he insisted he was pushing on, and vowed to “listen” to voters.
Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden quit, saying he and Tory supporters are “distressed and disappointed by recent events”, telling Johnson that “someone must take responsibility”.
Johnson, speaking to broadcasters in Rwanda, where he is at a Commonwealth summit, thanked Dowden for his “excellent” service in the role.
The Prime Minister said he would take responsibility, but stressed the cost-of-living crisis was the most important thing for voters, saying 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 a 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’re now facing pressures on the cost of living, we’re seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs – that’s hitting people.
“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.”
Labour ‘on path’ to victory
While, Labour MP Louise Haigh has said the result in Wakefield has put Labour “on the path to that general election victory”.
The shadow transport secretary said the result was a “massive rejection” of Johnson and the “lack of agenda of his Tory government”.
She told BBC Breakfast: “I think this clearly shows that we are building back those votes and helping regain the trust of those voters that we lost in 2019. But, clearly, we need to do much more than win the voters that we lost then.
“I think Wakefield demonstrates that we are winning back, and winning for the first time, people who’ve voted Tory for a very long time.
“For the first time that we’ve been in opposition, we have a leader that people in places like Wakefield can look to and think ‘that’s the kind of person I want to lead this country, that I can trust him as prime minister, I can trust him running the economy’.
“As I say, I think Wakefield puts us firmly on the path to winning the next general election.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey told LBC: “We’ve just had the biggest by-election victory here in Devon.
“No majority of this size has ever been overturned in a by-election, so I’m pretty chipper today.
“We are smiling here and the message from Tiverton and Honiton, the people here in Devon, is that Boris Johnson must go. I think they’ve spoken for the whole of the British people and it really is time he left.”
He added that the country was “in chaos” under Mr Johnson’s leadership and the Conservatives appeared to have no plan.
The Liberal Democrats had fronted a “positive” campaign in the constituency with policies that had “energised” people while the current Government falters, he said.
“I think it speaks on behalf of people – Boris Johnson really must be pushed out,” Sir Ed said.
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