Saturday, June 25, 2022

Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister is coming to an end following the defeats of Tiverton and Wakefield in the by-elections

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The Conservatives are rocked by overnight defeats, with the resignation of party leader Oliver Dowden putting further pressure on the Prime Minister

But the message of the Conservatives’ defeats at Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton seems loud and clear. Boris Johnson is no longer an election campaigner for the party.

It can be dangerous to read too much into by-elections: they are always influenced by local factors and anyway provide only a brief snapshot that may not be representative of the broader political picture.

Wakefield is notably the first seat Labor has taken from the Tories in a by-election in a decade, a sign of how hard the main opposition party has struggled in recent years.

Given the state of national polls, however, Labor’s victory should come as little surprise. Indeed, it would have been a severe blow to Sir Keir Starmer had his party failed to retake that marginal seat, whose Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being convicted of a child molestation charge.

Tiverton is the truly exceptional result and shows the depth of Mr Johnson’s problems.

With a majority of more than 20,000, this should be one of the safest Conservative strongholds in the country. Neil Parish’s resignation for viewing porn in the House of Commons was deeply embarrassing but need not have sullied the Tory brand in the same way as Khan’s crimes.

Even at the height of Tony Blair’s success, rural constituencies like Tiverton remain rock-solid in their support for the Conservatives. But for the second time in six months, the party has seen its county supporters desert it and flock to the Liberal Democrats.

The reason for this double defeat seems clear: since late last year, Mr Johnson’s popularity has taken a nosedive, bringing his party with it.

It is party leader Oliver Dowden who has resigned – 4,000 miles away in Rwanda the prime minister has said it would be “crazy” if he were to question his own position and he will try to impose his week-long trip abroad as if it’s like always.

There were evident problems with the Conservative voting machine run by Mr Dowden; and there is little doubt that Sir Ed Davey is credited with reviving the Lib Dems as a major force in by-elections.

The return of the tactical anti-Tory vote will also worry No 10 amid mounting evidence that Labor and Lib Dem supporters are poised to support whichever party is best placed to lead government in the defeat the area they live in.

This isn’t the first time Mr Johnson has been on the ropes and he has managed to bounce back on every previous occasion. He may not get the chance this time – a second formal challenge to his leadership could come later this year – but if he is to stage another comeback he will need to dispel the air of drift that increasingly surrounds his government.

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