Boris Johnson has suffered a triple blow as the Tories crashed to two by-election defeats, prompting the Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden to quit.
The Conservatives saw a majority of 24,000, or 40.6%, in the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honiton evaporate – a record reverse for the party – as the Liberal Democrats triumphed.
In Wakefield, the red wall constituency in West Yorkshire snatched by the Conservatives in 2019, it was Labor that took victory.
Following the results of the by-elections, Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden resigned and said in a letter to the PM: “We cannot carry on with business as usual.”
Mr Johnson thanked Mr Dowden for his service, but he said voters were going through a “tough time” and pledged to “keep going… until we get through this patch”.
It was the latest electoral mauling for the PM this year after the Tories lost nearly 500 council seats at the start of last month.
Simon Lightwood, who won the Wakefield by-election for Labor said: “I think people are absolutely tired of the lies and deceit we’ve seen from the prime minister and they’re demanding change and tonight is the demonstration of that.”
Richard Foord who took Tiverton and Honiton for the Lib Dems used his acceptance speech to call for Prime Minister Boris Johnson “to go, and go now”, claiming his victory had “sent a shockwave through British politics”.
Mr Johnson has been under pressure over the partygate scandal as well as the cost of living crisis squeezing British household budgets.
That pressure intensified when a no confidence vote saw 148 Conservative MPs oppose him.
But in his damning letter, Mr Dowden upped the game again, saying: “Somebody must take responsibility.”
Tory backbencher and fierce critic of the PM, Sir Roger Gale, said Mr Dowden was “a decent and honorable man who has clearly decided that he can no longer defend the indefensible”.
His Conservative colleague, Angela Richardson – who resigned as a junior aid over partygate – also tweeted the former party chairman was “most certainly not responsible for these results”, while fellow MP Simon Hoare said he was “proud to call Oliver a friend – never more so than today”.
Mr Johnson, who is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Rwanda, said ahead of the by-elections that he would be “watching the results with interest” while adding that “by-elections in mid-term are never necessarily easy for any government”.
He suggested it would be “crazy” for him to quit if he lost the two seats.
Oliver Dowden has jumped – but will others follow?
Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden this morning resigned declaring ‘somebody must take responsibility’.
Yet it is far from clear blame for the two overnight defeats in two very different sets of electoral circumstances could ever be laid at the door of the mild-mannered Mr Dowden.
The voters of Tiverton were not demanding his head as the price of shunning the Liberal Democrats.
Labor would have won Wakefield had somebody else been filling that position.
So why has he gone?
Speaking after Mr Dowden’s facing resignation, the PM said: “think as a government I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, in particular to the difficulties people are over the cost of living, which I think for most people is the number one issue.
“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.”
But labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tours.
“This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Liberal Democrats have made political history with this stunning win.
“This should be a wake-up call for all those Conservative MPs propping up Boris Johnson. They cannot afford to ignore this result.
“The public is sick of Boris Johnson’s lies and law-breaking and it’s time for Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and sack him.”
The by-elections, both in leave-voting constituencies, took place on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum.
They were each triggered by the resignations of Conservative MPs: in Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish quit after he admitted to watching pornography on his mobile phone in the Commons chamber; in Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
It became apparent soon after polls closed that it would be a bad night for the Tours.
Luke Hall, the party’s deputy chair, told Sky News it had been a “challenging campaign” and pointed to the impact of divisions laid bare by the confidence vote.
“I certainly would accept that disunity in political parties means parties do not win elections,” he said.