The Conservative Party has imploded in two by-elections as local electorates delivered a devastating verdict on Boris Johnson’s corrupt government.
The results in Wakefield (Yorkshire), and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon follow dire local election results in May.
All are being seen as a response to the revelations of rampant law-breaking in Downing Street during the Covid-19 lockdown, on Boris Johnson’s watch – and on other decisions he has made that appear to fly against the Ministerial Code.
In Wakefield, Labour’s Simon Lightwood overturned a Tory majority of 3,358 in the 2019 general election to gain a majority of 4,925 on a much lower turnout of 39.46 per cent of the electorate.
But in Tiverton and Honiton, a former Tory stronghold, Liberal Democrat Richard Foord smashed a Conservative majority of 24,239 to gain a majority of his own totalling 6,144. Turnout was much higher, at 52.16 per cent.
Johnson has buried his head in the sand. He has said he will “listen” to voters but intends to “keep going”, no matter what.
But he may not get the chance because panic is spreading through his party like wildfire.
And it is a party with no chairman after Oliver Dowden quit with a letter he sent to Johnson at 5.35am. As BBC political editor Chris Mason put it: “Nothing reeks of panic quite like a resignation letter at 5.35am.”
And the words of the letter are damning. Dowden did not voice any support at all for Johnson.
Instead, he stated: “Yesterday’s Parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party. Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings.”
He is distressed and disappointed by the Conservative Party’s election results under Johnson.
“We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility” – but even though Dowden was resigning, he did not say that it should be him. The implication is clear: he thinks Johnson should quit as well.
Dowden went on to pay tribute – not to Johnson’s leadership but to “our excellent Conservative volunteers and staffers who work so tirelessly for our cause”.
He continued: “They are the backbone of our great party and deserve better than this.” This being Johnson, one can only conclude.
Dowden himself concluded with these words: “I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.” But not to Johnson?
The meaning is clear: Boris Johnson is now ballot box poison and should make way for somebody new.
In Chris Mason’s early-morning comment for the BBC, the pundit states that: “Conservative MPs from the top down have the jitters this morning; the dawn decision of their former chairman quickening their pulse further.”
Yes indeed. The Treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs has put his head above the parapet to say that, after hearing what Johnson has to say for himself, he and his colleagues will be making “some very difficult decisions”.
He said the by-election losses were a “very serious and large defeat in two completely different areas of the country” and members of the Conservative Party need to “think very carefully about the future and how we’re going to remedy the situation” so they stand the best possible chance of winning the next election.
Is that a coded suggestion that the “best possible chance” of winning the next election is the removal of a leader who has proved himself to be a liability?
Also on the minds of Tory MPs – especially in the South West – will be the words of Tiverton and Honiton’s new Liberal Democrat representative, Richard Foord, who demanded that Boris Johnson must “go – and go now”.
He said: “For those Conservative MPs propping up this failing prime minister… If you don’t take action to restore decency, respect and British values to Downing Street, you too will face election defeats.”
The figures suggest he’s not wrong. “Elections guru” Sir John Curtice has said that, adding in the results of the other three by-elections held over the last year, the Conservative vote is an average of 20 percentage points behind its position in 2019.
The last government struggling that badly was John Major’s – and he led it to a landslide defeat in 1997.
If he remains as prime minister, Johnson may well do the same – but only if his fellow MPs let him. Is it time for a visit from the men in grey suits?
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