Boris Johnson has said he will ‘carry on’ after his authority received a series of blows from a double by-election defeat which prompted the resignation of a Cabinet minister.
The Prime Minister acknowledged on Friday that the loss of the former Tory stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats as well as the ceding of Wakefield to Labor was “difficult”, but he insisted he was pushing and has sworn to “listen” to voters.
Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, saying he and Tory supporters were ‘distressed and disappointed by recent events’, telling Mr Johnson that ‘someone has to take responsibility’.
Mr Johnson, speaking to broadcasters 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit, thanked Mr 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 post-war governments are losing the by-elections”.
“It’s absolutely true that we had some tough by-election results, they were I think a reflection of a lot of things, but we have to recognize that voters are going through a tough time right now,” he said. he declared in a conference center in Kigali.
“I think as a government I have to listen to what people are saying – especially the difficulties people are facing because of the cost of living, which I think is the number one issue for the most people.
“We are now facing cost of living pressures, we are seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs – it is hitting people.
“We have to recognize that we need to do more and we certainly will, we will continue to address people’s concerns until we get through this patch.”
In an interview with Channel 4 News, Mr Johnson insisted: ‘I, of course, take responsibility for the Government’s electoral performance.’
In the rural Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, the Liberal Democrats overturned a majority of 24,000 Tories to win, while Labor reclaimed Wakefield.
The contests, triggered by the resignation of disgraced Tories, offered voters the chance to give their verdict on the Prime Minister just weeks after 41% of his MPs voted against him.
Mr Dowden, who was due to appear on the Government’s media tour on Friday morning, said in his letter to the Prime Minister that the by-elections ‘are the latest in a series of very bad results for our party’.
He said: “Our supporters are saddened and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings.
“We cannot carry on as if nothing had happened. Someone has to take responsibility and I concluded that in these circumstances it would not be fair for me to stay on.
The MP ended his letter by saying, “I want to emphasize that this is a deeply personal decision that I made alone.
“I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.”
A dramatic swing of almost 30% from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats saw Richard Foord secure a majority of 6,144 in Tiverton and Honiton.
The new Lib Dem MP used his acceptance speech to call on Mr Johnson ‘to go, and to go now’, saying his victory had ‘sent shock waves through British politics’.
Mr Foord said: “The people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken on behalf of Britain. They sent a loud and clear message: it’s time for Boris Johnson to go, and go now.
He said that “every day Boris Johnson clings to his duties, he brings more shame, chaos and neglect”.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘This should be a wake-up call for all those Tory MPs who support Boris Johnson.
“They can’t afford to ignore this result.”
He said it was “time for Tory MPs to finally do the right thing and sack him”.
A Conservative source said it was a ‘disappointing but not unexpected result’ and ‘we are confident we will regain this seat at the next general election’.
In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 over a 12.7% gap from Tory to Labour.
Former Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan has resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting 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 have spoken on behalf of the British people.
“They said, without reservation: Boris Johnson, your contempt for this country is no longer tolerated.”
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Wakefield has shown the country has lost faith in the Tories.
“This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party running out of energy and ideas. Britain deserves better.
He said the result showed Labor “is back on the workers’ side, winning seats where we lost them before and ready for government”.
Mr Johnson, who is attending a Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Rwanda, suggested it would be ‘crazy’ for him to step down and said mid-term by-elections were ‘never necessarily easy for a government “.
Mr Johnson reportedly spoke to Mr Dowden before his resignation and enjoyed a swim and breakfast at his hotel in Kigali after learning of the election results.