LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party lost two parliamentary seats on Friday, leading to the resignation of the party’s leader and renewing doubts about the future of Britain’s embattled leader.
The losses – one in traditional southern Conservative strongholds and a seat in northern England that Labor won in the last election – suggest the electoral coalition that Johnson assembled in the 2019 national election may be fracturing.
Johnson’s shift from winner of the vote to electoral responsibility may prompt lawmakers to move against him again after months of scandal over COVID-19 lockdown parties and amid a rising cost of living crisis.
Johnson has resisted intense pressure to resign after being fined for breaching lockdown rules in his Downing Street office, and dismissed the idea that he would resign if his ruling party lost a so-called by-election.
“It’s absolutely true that we got some tough by-election results…I think I as a government should listen to what the people are saying,” Johnson told broadcasters after the results.
“We have to realize that there is more that we need to do… We will continue to address people’s concerns until we have this correction.”
Johnson is currently out of the country in Rwanda for the Commonwealth meeting.
This month he survived a confidence vote by Conservative MPs, even though 41% of his fellow parliamentarians voted to oust him, and is under investigation by a commission over whether he deliberately misled parliament.
After losses at Tiverton and Honiton in southern England and Wakefield in the north, Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, saying things had to change.
Yesterday’s parliamentary by-election is the latest in a string of very poor results for our party. “Our supporters are disappointed and disappointed with recent events, and I share their sentiments,” Dowden said in his resignation letter to Johnson.
We cannot continue business as usual. Someone must take responsibility and I have concluded that under the circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in the position.”
Several Conservative lawmakers have tweeted their support for Dowden, saying he is not responsible for the findings in messages that indicated renewed opposition against Johnson’s leadership.
Although under his party’s rules that Johnson’s no-confidence motion cannot be challenged for another year, lawmakers who fear for their future may decide to reduce the grace period for another vote.
The wave of resignations from Johnson’s cabinet team is seen as another way the prime minister could be forced to step down.
The next national elections are scheduled for 2024, but they can be called early.
The Conservatives lost a large majority of more than 24,000 votes in Tiverton and Honiton, in a deeply conservative part of southwest England, and were defeated by the centrist Liberal Democrats who secured a majority of more than 6,000.
The Liberal Democrats said it was the largest majority ever dropped in a British parliamentary by-election, suggesting that other Conservative MPs may be at risk of losing their seats in the party’s southern strongholds.
Winning Liberal Democratic Party candidate Richard Faure said in his victory speech that Johnson should “go and go now”.
“With each day that Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings more shame, chaos and neglect,” he said.
In the separate parliamentary seat in Wakefield in northern England, the main opposition Labor Party also defeated the Conservatives.
Wakefield showed that the country had lost faith in the conservatives. “This result is a clear verdict on the Conservative Party, which has run out of energy and ideas,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in a statement.
Johnson led the Conservatives to their largest majority in three decades in the 2019 national election, winning praise from his party for his ability to win in Labor’s traditional voting districts in northern and central England.
However, Wakefield’s loss may indicate that his ability to win again in these areas in the next national elections, expected in 2024, has also been jeopardized.
The by-election was triggered by high-profile resignations from Conservative MPs – one who admitted watching pornography in Parliament, the other guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
(Reporting by Alistair Smoot in London, Additional reporting by Andrew McCaskill in Kigali; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Toby Chopra