Conservative MPs fear losing their seats as Johnson leads party to double defeat

Conservative MPs have expressed fear they will be next to be expelled from Parliament after Boris Johnson led the party to a double defeat in a by-election.

The prime minister vowed to “keep going” after a series of blows to his credibility, including the resignation of cabinet minister Oliver Dowden on Friday.

Speaking 4,000 miles away at the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda, Mr Johnson vowed to “listen” to voters after losing former Tory stronghold Tiverton and Honiton to Liberal Democrats and Wakefield to Labor.

Mr. Dowden resigned as co-chairman of the Tory Party, saying he and the Tory supporters were “bitter and disappointed by recent events” and telling Mr. Johnson that “someone has to take charge”.

With 324 Tory MPs elected in 2019, with smaller majorities than Tiverton and Honiton constituencies, MPs including the Grand Conservative Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown expressed concern that they could lose their seats in the next general election.

The prime minister was on the phone with Chancellor Rishi Sunak during his daily meeting after Mr. Dowden called with a warning after an early morning swim at his hotel.

Speaking to broadcasters, Mr Johnson said he would take responsibility but insisted that the cost-of-living crisis is the most important issue for voters and “it is true that post-war governments are losing by-elections in the medium term.”

“It is absolutely true that we had a difficult by-election outcome. I think they reflected a lot of things, but we have to admit that voters are having a hard time right now,” he said at a convention center in Kigali.

“I think that as a government, I should listen to what people are saying, in particular the difficulties that people have with the cost of living, which I think is the number one issue for most people.

“We have to admit that we still have a lot of work to do, and we will definitely do it – we will continue to work, paying attention to people’s concerns until we get through this patch.”

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Mr. Johnson added: “Of course, I take responsibility for the government’s performance in the elections.”

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In the rural Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, the Liberal Democrats overturned a 24,000 Tory majority and won, while Labor reclaimed Wakefield.

Contests sparked by the resignations of two disgraced Tories gave voters the opportunity to reach their verdict on the prime minister just weeks after 148 of his MPs voted against him in a vote of confidence.

Mr. Dowden, who was scheduled to appear in the morning media round on behalf of the government before resigning, said in his letter to Mr. Johnson that the by-election “is the latest in a string of very bad results for our party.”

“Our supporters are saddened and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings,” he said.

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Letter sent by Oliver Dowden to Boris Johnson (Oliver Dowden/PA)

“We cannot continue to operate as usual. Someone has to take responsibility and I have come to the conclusion that under the circumstances it would be wrong for me to remain in my post.”

Sir Geoffrey retained his Cotswold seat with a majority of 20,000 in the 2019 general election, but admitted that it would be difficult to keep it next time.

“I think, in fact, if I ran under a bus today, it would be difficult for me to hold my seat. There’s no doubt about it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Former minister Jesse Norman said that Johnson was insulting the electorate and making a decisive change of government in the next general election “much more likely” by dragging out “this charade”.

Veteran Conservative MP and longtime critic of Johnson, Sir Roger Gale, said the prime minister had “tarnished” the party’s reputation.

He told BBC Breakfast that Johnson had decided to “hold on to the doorknob of No. 10” but “it can’t go on forever and certainly won’t last until the next general election.”

A Conservative Party source said Mr. Johnson was at his hotel pool by 6 a.m. Kigali time and was surprised to receive a call from Mr. Dowden warning him that he was about to resign.

The source added that the prime minister had his typical daily meeting with Mr Sunak, this time by phone, and with chief curator Chris Heaton-Harris.

Despite the political drama, Mr Johnson is said to be planning to stay the course in Rwanda before heading to the G7 summit in Germany.

“Not being in the G7 would be a disclaimer for any prime minister,” the source said.

A swing of almost 30% from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats saw Richard Furd win a majority of 6,144 votes in Tiverton and Honiton.

The vote was prompted by the resignation of Neil Parish after he was caught watching pornography in Parliament.

The new Liberal Democrat MP used his acceptance speech to urge Mr Johnson to “go away and go now”, saying his victory “shook British politics”.

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Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was “time for the Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and fire him.”

In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 in a 12.7% Tory-Labor transition.

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Former Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down after being found guilty of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy, a crime for which he was jailed for 18 months.

Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being Labor since the 1930s.

Mr Lightwood said: “The people of Wakefield spoke for the British people.

“They said unequivocally, ‘Boris Johnson, your contempt for this country is no longer acceptable.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Wakefield has shown that the country has lost confidence in the Tories.

“This result is a clear verdict on the Conservative Party, which has run out of energy and ideas. Britain deserves better.”

He said the result shows that Labor is “back on the side of the working people, winning seats where they used to lose, and ready to come into government”.