Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden has resigned after his party’s dramatic losses in two UK by-elections put pressure on Boris Johnson’s already weakened leadership.
Labor won back the northern England constituency of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where a 12.7 percentage point shift saw candidate Simon Lightwood win 48 per cent of the vote. The Liberal Democrats beat the Conservatives for the third time in 12 months, with candidate Richard Foord elected to the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honiton in south-west England by a 30% swing.
“Yesterday’s by-elections are the latest in a series of very poor results for our party,” Dowden wrote in a open letter to the British Prime Minister. “Our supporters are saddened and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings,” he told Johnson.
“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 right for me to stay on,” added Dowden.
It has been just over two weeks since Johnson narrowly survived a vote of confidence in his leadership of the UK’s ruling party, in which four in 10 of his MPs voted to impeach him. Many said at the time that defeat in Thursday’s by-elections could spark a new wave of resignation demands. The Prime Minister has come under pressure on multiple fronts, most notably after being fined by police and criticized by an inquiry into lockdown-breaking parties held in Downing Street.
Wakefield’s result was “a clear judgment on a Conservative party strapped for energy and ideas”, Labor leader Keir Starmer said on Friday morning as he headed to Yorkshire for a lap of honor. The evening’s other winner, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, echoed that sentiment, calling his party’s victory “a wake-up call for all those Tory MPs who support Boris Johnson”.