Here's a summary of today ...
- Labour won in Wakefield, which had been a Labour seat since the second world war until the 2019 election, with a very healthy swing of almost 13%. But the Tories also lost Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats.
- Oliver Dowden quit as Tory chair, taking swipe at Johnson’s conduct, after Tories suffered a historic byelection defeat.
- Johnson suggested the cost of living crisis was to blame for the Tory elections defeat. Not his own conduct or leadership.
- Michael Heseltine, the former Conservative deputy prime minister, who now sits as an unaffiliated peer in the Lords after falling out with his party over Brexit, told Sky News Johnson wouldn’t survive a second no confidence vote.
- Sir Malcolm Rifkind, foreign secretary in John Major’s government, told Sky News that if government ministers want Boris Johnson to quit, they should go and tell him. He claimed that a dozen ministers would force him out.
- Michael Howard urged cabinet ministers to oust Johnson. But would not say whom he wanted to see as the next leader.
- Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary and probably Boris Johnson’s most loyal supporter in cabinet, has claimed byelections are “useless” as a guide to what will happen in a subsequent general election.
- Speaking at a news conference Boris Johnson said of the defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton: “I’m not going to pretend these are brilliant results. We’ve got to listen, we’ve got to learn.”
- The former health secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio that he backs Boris Johnson, and that the party needs to “pull together” for a general election in which “the only alternative will be a combination of Nicola Sturgeon and Keir Starmer”.
That’s it from me for today, and for the blog. Thanks for reading.
Here’s the latest from the Guardian’s letters page.
After the byelection wins by the Lib Dems in Tiverton and Honiton and Labour in Wakefield, this is surely is the moment for an anti-Tory alliance. Ed Davey, Caroline Lucas and Keir Starmer should get together with promises to put the planet first, clean up British politics, and get a grip on the economic crisis. No shilly-shallying, Keir. No “we can go it alone”, Ed. Let’s usher in the leader we all need: Caroline.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
When my husband was in the last few days of his life in April this year, the community nurse asked him if he would like anything changing. “The government,” he said. Well, we’ve made a start. Thank you.
Boris Johnson would be well advised to remain in Rwanda. There is a splendid modern hotel in Kigali well set up to receive long-stay guests from the UK.
This is Beth Rigby from Sky News asking Boris Johnson why he won’t acknowledge that his conduct could be part of the problem with voters.
“You’re safe, you’ve won the confidence vote, can you not just acknowledge that?” Rigby asked the prime minister at the news conference earlier.
The minister of state for Northern Ireland said he was “disappointed” by Oliver Dowden’s resignation as Conservative Party co-chair, PA reports.
After taking in the results this morning, Dowden handed in his resignation, declaring: “We cannot carry on with business as usual.”
Conor Burns said he believed Dowden did not need to quit, and when asked of calls from former Conservative leader Michael Howard for the prime minister to resign he said:
I would simply say I will give the same loyalty to my party leader and my Prime Minister as Lord Howard expected of me when he was party leader.
Speaking on the double byelection defeat, Burns said:
People don’t like elections for bad reasons, like the ones we had in both of these cases. Where we are today is not unprecedented.
The former health secretary Matt Hancock has told Times Radio that he backs Boris Johnson, and that the party needs to “pull together” for a general election in which “the only alternative will be a combination of Nicola Sturgeon and Keir Starmer”.
Speaking to Cathy Newman he said that “what the results really show is that there is no possibility of a Labour outright majority at the next election”. Hancock said there was “clearly no enthusiasm for Keir Starmer”.
On the PM’s position, he said “we had this debate three weeks ago” and given that the PM had won, the party should “move forward”. He added that “there is no alternative prime minister, look around. And that’s just a matter of political fact.”
This is from Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, responding to attorney general Suella Braverman telling BBC News it is “disappointing” to see a “dishonest electoral pact between the Lib Dems and Labour”, after the conservatives lost two key byelections.
Here’s a Guardian graphic showing the Tiverton and Honiton seat the Liberal Democrats overturned:
How did the Lib Dems do it?
Some insights from my colleague Peter Walker:
The statistic which perhaps best illustrates how the Liberal Democrats pulled off the biggest byelection win in UK history by the scale of majority overturned comes from the day before the vote: that day alone, party activists hand-delivered over 40,000 leaflets in Tiverton and Honiton.
That is half the entire electorate, and more or less the same number of leaflets delivered as people who went to the polls. Over the course of the entire campaign, the party sent out an estimated 750,000 pieces of campaign paper, almost ten for every potential voter.
It is perhaps no surprise that rueful opposition activists on the receiving end of Lib Dem byelection tactics have been known to accuse the party of “carpet bombing” constituents with literature.
It was this ground war which, above anything else, gave Lib Dems the sense they might be able to pull off a win in a rural, Brexit-minded seat which has been almost universally Conservative in its choice of MPs for well over a century.
The party is well known for enjoying a good byelection fight, and getting campaigners involved and enthused has become notably easier since it stunned the Tories by taking the similarly safe seats of Chesham and Amersham a year ago, and North Shropshire in December.
Activists and councillors flooded in from around the country, while everyone one of the party’s 13 MPs – now boosted to 14, from the 11 secured in the 2019 election – made repeated trips to join canvassers. Ed Davey, the leader, spent nine days in the constituency.
On both the final weekend of the campaign, and on polling day, the party had 500 volunteers delivering leaflets or speaking to voters. On polling day itself, the party spoke to 20,000 voters.
The Conservative campaign, while notably less anaemic than that seen in North Shropshire, saw Boris Johnson and a number of his ministers visit, but struggled to gain the same momentum.
Most crucially, as a party which had been able to more or less assume a win in the constituency for decades, the Conservatives lacked a base of activists, both in terms of numbers, and the experience of pushing a tight campaign.
Boris Johnson speaking from Kigali: 'We've got to listen, we've got to learn'
Speaking at a news conference after a double byelection defeat and the resignation of a Conservative party co-chair, Johnson was pressed by journalists on the blow to his authority, the government’s Rwanda policy and the US supreme court overturning abortion rights.
Johnson said of the defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton: “I’m not going to pretend these are brilliant results. We’ve got to listen, we’ve got to learn.”
Citing inflationary pressures, supply chain shocks and the war in Ukraine, Johnson added: “When people are finding it tough they send messages to politicians. We’ve got to respond.”
He also announced the government’s £372m package to support the UN’s emergency response for countries hardest hit by food security. Attending the G7 summit in Germany in the coming days, Johnson said they will be focused on looking at what richer countries can do to bring down global commodity prices and get the economy “back on track”.
Asked about the government’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, Johnson said it was “notable that so far no UK court has found it unlawful, and no international court has found it to be unlawful”.
Speaking in Kigali, Johnson also said the supreme court ruling that there was no constitutional right to abortion in the United States was “a big step backwards”.
“I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose and I stick to that view. And that’s why the UK has the laws that it does,” said Johnson.
A Tory MP who did not want to be identified told PA Media that they wanted Boris Johnson to go. They said:
When we suffered by-election losses during the Cameron years for instance, it was taken on the chin because the government back then was actually doing Conservative things.
Their economic policy, for instance, was far more conservative than today’s literally 80-seat majority Conservative government. People in the party held their nerve because there was a long-term economic plan, which Cameron and Osborne were competent at selling.
That’s why a loss in Tiverton and Honiton can’t just be shrugged off. It precipitates electoral disaster, which can only be avoided by replacing Boris Johnson with the better leadership the Conservative party needs and deserves.
That is all from me for today. My colleague Geneva Abdul is taking over now.
These are from ITV’s Harry Harton on the seats in Yorkshire and the Humber that the Tories would lose on a Wakefield-sized swing to Labour.
This is from Sophia Sleigh from HuffPost, who says the report from the privileges committee inquiry into whether or not Boris Johnson lied to MPs over Partygate is now being cited as the danger moment for the PM.
We have been here before. Other events cited by Tories who said they wanted to wait until X before deciding whether to act against the PM include:
1) The publication of the Sue Gray report into Partygate.
2) A decision by the police to fine Johnson over Partygate.
3) The end of the police investigation into Partygate.
4) The local elections.
5) Johnson’s Commons response to the Partygate.
6) The end of the platinum jubilee celebrations.
7) The Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton byelections.
These are from the academic Robert Saunders, explaining why he thinks Boris Johnson is unlikely to be forced out by a delegation of cabinet ministers.
These are from Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary, on the significance of the byelection results.
Zahawi partly adopts the “Tory voters stayed at home” thesis advanced by David Frost this morning. (See 11.16am.) Patrick English from YouGov explains in these tweets why he thinks Frost is wrong.
As my colleague Patrick Wintour reports, Boris Johnson has suffered a further defeat at the Commonwealth conference today.
This story from Patrick last month explains the background to this dispute.
The two byelection defeats are not an “indictment” of Boris Johnson, the Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has said. He told Radio 4’s World at One programme:
It’s a simplification to suggest this is an indictment of Boris Johnson.
Asked about calls by Michael Howard for Johnson to resign, Houchen said: “Obviously what he said should be listened to.”
But Houhen said it would look “ridiculous” to the public if the Conservative party embarked on a leadership contest. People wanted the government to be addressing the cost of living and inflation, he said.
What can Tory MPs do to get rid of Boris Johnson?
Here is a question from below the line that is worth addressing. A VONC is a vote of no confidence.
There are probably at least five options - although only one (the first one) seems probable. They are:
1) Changing the 1922 Committee rules, so that MPs do not have to wait another year before they can trigger a second vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson. This now seems increasingly probable. (See 10.36am, 12.24pm and 1.40pm.) What is not clear, though, is when a second one might be held. Six months after the last one (which was on 6 June)? Three months? The 1922 executive can change the rules when it wants, and a new executive is being elected by Tory backbenchers before the summer recess.
2) A vote of no confidence by the voluntary party. In the dying days of Theresa May’s leadership, her opponents dug up an obscure rule in the Conservative party’s constitution saying if at least 65 Conservative association chairs sign a petition, the party has to summon a meeting of the national convention (the voluntary party). This could pass its own motion of no confidence in Johnson. There has been talk of this mechanism being used now.
But the no confidence motion would be non-binding. And the Conservative party rule book is a remarkably flexible document that allows the leadership to do more or less whatever they want. As Paul Webb and Tim Bale point out in The Modern British Party System, the party constitution includes a line saying: “The board shall have the power to do anything which in its opinion relates to the management and administration of the party.” It is not certain that a meeting would take place.
3) A coup against Johnson by his ministers. Michael Howard said today he would like to see this happen (see 1.40pm), and Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggested that just 12 ministers would be enough to force Johnson out (see 1.08pm.) But that seems unlikely. Other prime ministers would humiliated by the withdrawal of confidence of their most senior colleagues. But if Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were to tell Johnson that they could no longer serve under him, it seems just as probable that Johnson would replace them with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries, calling in people like Peter Bone to fill in any remaining vacancies. (I originally included Bone in this sentence as a joke, but with Johnson it would be unwise to rule anything out.)
4) A coup against Johnson by his MPs. There is nothing to stop a website like ConservativeHome trying to get a majority of Conservative MPs to sign a petition calling for Johnson’s resignation. But Johnson could just ignore this too. He does not have much in common with Jeremy Corbyn, but both of them are equipped with heroic stubbornness, and in 2016 Corbyn ignored the result of a 172 t0 40 no confidence vote against him by Labour MPs. Corbyn went on to do much better than his MPs expected at the subsequent election.
5) A Commons no confidence vote. Labour could table a vote of no confidence in the government in the Commons, and hope that Tories might join them in voting against Johnson. But that would never happen because it would be a vote against their party and, if it passed, it would probably trigger a general election. Labour could also table a vote of no confidence in Johnson personally. But, unlike a proper no confidence motion, the government would not have to schedule an immediate debate on this, and even if such a motion were passed (debated in opposition time) it would have no constitutional force.
Dorries claims byelection results 'useless' as a guide to future political performance
Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary and probably Boris Johnson’s most loyal supporter in cabinet, has claimed byelections are “useless” as a guide to what will happen in a subsequent general election.
Dorries is right about governments being able to win elections after losing byelections. But it is entirely wrong to say they are “useless” as a guide to what might happen at a subsequent general election. Like most pieces of data, it is just a matter of trying to understand them better. Prof Sir John Curtice is a more reliable guide. See 9.11am.
Here are two Guardian graphics showing the election results.
Michael Howard urges cabinet ministers to oust Johnson
Here are the main points from Michael Howard’s interview about Boris Johnson on Radio 4’s the World at One.
- Howard said he was now calling for Johnson’s resignation because the PM was no longer an election winner. Howard said.
I’m afraid I’d very reluctantly come to the conclusion that he shouldn’t [stay on]. His biggest asset has always been his ability to win votes. But I’m afraid yesterday’s results make it clear that he no longer has that ability.
And the best person in the Conservative Party to judge the mood, both of the party and of the electorate, is its chairman. I have enormous respect for Oliver Dowden and the implications of his resignation letter are, I think, very clear ...
I think the party, and even more importantly the country, would now be better off under new leadership.
- Howard said that he thought Johnson was personally responsible for the “unacceptable” culture at No 10 exposed during Partygate. He said the byelections showed that that view is now shared by “very large numbers of people”.
- Howard urged cabinet ministers to oust Johnson. When it was put to him that Johnson was not likely to resign of his own volition, he agree. But he went on:
But there are others who can take action who could make that course come about ... I think that action needs to be taken.
Asked to explain what should happen next, Howard said:
First of all, I think members of the cabinet should very carefully consider their positions, as Oliver Dowden has done. And it may be necessary for the executive of the 1922 Committee to meet and to decide to change the rules so that another leadership election could take place. Those are the two things which I think could make a difference.
Cabinet ministers cannot vote out the PM. But it is generally assumed that if enough senior cabinet ministers tell a PM their position is unsustainable, they will go.
Whether this would actually happen, though, is another matter. Johnson’s entire career is a catalogue of moments where he has defied conventional wisdom on how politics is supposed to function.
- Howard would not say whom he wanted to see as the next leader.
These are from ITV’s Carl Dinnen on the mood among Conservative MPs.
This is from the Labour party on the Wakefield result.
Here is Michael Howard on The World at One calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation. This is from the BBC’s Rebecca Keating.
Malcolm Rifkind urges ministers to tell PM if they can no longer support him, claiming just 12 rebels could end his premiership
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, foreign secretary in John Major’s government, told Sky News that if government ministers want Boris Johnson to quit, they should go and tell him. He claimed that a dozen ministers would force him out.
Rifkind said the leadership crisis in the party “has to be brought to a conclusion”.
Pointing out that one cabinet minister, Oliver Dowden, has already resigned, Rifkind said there were another 50 or 60 junior ministers without whom the government could not function. He went on:
I think it is hugely in the public interest that preferably the prime minister seeks their views. If he’s not willing to see their views, because you might be rather worried of what they might say to him, then they must, at least in some number, come together and go and see him - unless they all wish to give him their unqualified support.
If they don’t wish to do that, if they’ve come to the same conclusion as the voters of Tiverton, or half the parliamentary party, then the quicker they share these views ... It doesn’t require all of them. If a dozen ministers, for example, share these views on top of all 140 backbenchers, then that will be the end of his prime ministership.
In the confidence ballot three weeks ago Johnson won by 211 votes to 148. Assuming that most MPs on the payroll vote (ministers and PPSs) supported him (and most of them did issue public declarations of support), the figures would show that most backbenchers did not support him.
Boris Johnson is in no hurry to replace Oliver Dowden as Conservative party co-chair, Politico’s Eleni Courea reports.
The other co-chair is Ben Elliott, who is not a parliamentarian and who has been focused on fundraising. He could not replace Dowden on his own without having to adopt a more public role, which so far he has resisted, perhaps because if he gave interviews he would face questions about his business interests.
Andrew RT Davies, the Conservative leader in Wales, has suggested that it is getting harder for Boris Johnson to justify carrying on as PM. These are from the BBC’s Chris Mason.
And these are from the FT’s Stephen Bush, responding to the argument from Matt Goodwin (see 12.31pm) and others that Labour should be doing better.
Matt Goodwin, an academic who specialises in populism, and why voters are attracted to it, thinks Labour is not doing well enough to be on course to win the next general election.
Johnson would not survive second no-confidence vote, says Heseltine
Michael Heseltine, the former Conservative deputy prime minister, who now sits as an unaffiliated peer in the Lords after falling out with his party over Brexit, told Sky News that he thought the forthcoming elections to the Conservative 1922 Committee executive (see 10.36am) would lead to the election of an executive committed to allowing a second no confidence vote in Boris Johnson within a year.
And asked if Johnson would survive such a vote, Heseltine replied: “The answer is no.”
Heseltine argued that, even if Johnson managed a narrow victory, the party would still force him out. He recalled that when he challenged Margaret Thatcher for the leadership in 1990, she won on the first ballot, but resigned soon afterwards because support for her was draining away. He went on:
I would guess that it’s the chairman of the 22 that will be the focal point of discontent. Sir Graham Brady has a lonely job to do and I don’t envy him.
But it’s to him that people will go and say: ‘Look, we can’t go on like this.’ And he, perhaps one or two other senior members of the House of Commons, would be deputed to talk to the prime minister. I would expect that’s the most likely situation.
Former Tory leader Michael Howard says Johnson should resign
Michael Howard, the former Conservative party leader, is calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation. In a recent interview Howard (who sacked Johnson as a frontbencher in 2004 for lying about an affair, but who now says that he was wrong to do so) refused to say how he would have voted in the recent no-confidence ballot, had he still been an MP.
But Howard has now turned against Johnson in an interview recorded for the World at One. These are from the BBC’s Chris Mason.
Johnson sidesteps questions about role of Partygate in Tory byelection defeats
In interviews this morning Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to accept that his own personal conduct, particularly in relation to Partygate, was a factor in the byelection defeats.
In a pooled interview, when it was put to him that the defeats were “about you ... not about all the other stuff”, he replied: “That may be your view,” before going on to argue that governments routinely lost byelections mid-term. (See 8.02am.)
And when it was put to him that people were voting to get him out because they were “very angry” about the Sue Gray report, he again sidestepped the question. He replied:
Look, as I say, you see historically in the last 50 years, more, you’ve seen governments being punished at the polls during mid-term, when people are particularly feeling economic pressures. And I totally get that.
I think that what we’ve got is the right way forward. And I think that, actually, we are able to support people because of the decisions that we took; I think coming out of Covid, we took a lot of the right decisions.
You can see the same strategy on display in this clip.
Sir Robert Buckland, who was sacked from his post as justice secretary by Boris Johnson, told Sky News this morning that Johnson needed to “look in the mirror and do better”. He said:
What is frustrating ... is that lack of focus and a real sense of a co-ordinated message here about what the government is doing and what it needs to do.
The Conservative party is a broad coalition of people who have different views across the centre right in politics. We need to reflect that far, far better – we’re not a sect, we’re not some iconoclastic tribe trying to overthrow the state.
Boris Johnson 'has to go', says Lib Dem leader Ed Davey
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, has just delivered a victory speech in Tiverton and Honiton saying the Conservatives are running out of excuses for their election defeats. He said:
When we beat them a year ago, in Chesham and Amersham, they said they’d lost because of a small local matter.
When we beat them six months ago in North Shropshire, they said they’d chosen the wrong candidate.
When we beat them last month - in Somerset, in Cumbria, in Wimbledon, in Woking - they chalked it up to “typical mid-term blues”.
The spinners in No 10 call this “expectation management”.
But I can tell No 10 - the British people are sick of having their expectations managed.
For years, Boris Johnson has told people things will get better. But under his leadership, things only get worse.
So let me tell the prime minister what the British people expect: they expect our country to be led.
And he has shown no leadership, whatsoever.
He also urged Tory MPs to get rid of their leader.
Boris Johnson has got to go.
But until the next election, the only people who can show Boris Johnson the door are his own party.
So let me take a moment to manage the expectations of Conservative MPs.
If you fail to get rid of this law-breaking prime minister …
If your party keeps putting up taxes and failing to help people …
If you continue to allow Boris Johnson to drift along with no plan for our country - the Liberal Democrats will come after you, seat by seat.
We will assemble an army of activists. We will offer the change people want, and the change our country needs.
We will drive you out of power.
David Frost, the former Brexit minister who has now become a prominent advocate for a more rightwing, low-tax, deregulatory Conservatism, claims that the real problem illustrated by the byelection results is that the party is failing to mobilise its voters.
Lord Frost is right to say voters are not switching wholesale from the Conservatives to Labour.
But he is wrong to suggest that the defeats were mainly a function of turnout. Turnout in Tiverton and Honiton was 52% - which is the joint equal (with Chesham and Amersham) highest byelection turnout of this parliament. And in Wakefield the turnout was not “extremely low”. It was 39.5% - which is almost exactly the average turnout for byelections for this parliament (39.7%).
This is from Nigel Adams, who attends cabinet at a Cabinet Office minister, setting out what seems to be the official CCHQ line to take on the byelections defeats. Like Boris Johnson earlier (see 8.02am), he is arguing that government’s routinely lose byelections mid term.
Although governments often recover from byelection setbacks, they don’t always. Prof Sir John Curtice argues this morning that current Tory defeats are happening on a scale that suggests the general election looks lost too. (See 9.11am.)
James Forsyth, who as as political editor of the Spectator is one of the journalists best tuned in to thinking in the Conservative party, has written a blog saying the byelection defeats make it more likely than before the the 1922 Committee rules will be changed to prevent Tory MPs having to wait another year until they can hold a second no confidence vote in Boris Johnson. Here’s an extract.
Looking at these Tory losses, it is hard not to conclude that the rebels would have got the 180 votes they needed to oust Boris Johnson if they had been organised enough to wait until after the by-elections before going for a vote of no confidence. But having had a vote two weeks ago, it is not credible to suggest changing the rules immediately to allow another one.
However, judging from the conversations I have had with Tory MPs this morning, more of them would now like the option of having another vote sooner than a year from now.
Forsyth says this will be an issue in the elections for the 1922 Committee executive (which has the power to change the rules) before the summer recess.
David Gauke, the former Tory justice secretary, says it is obvious from Oliver Dowden’s resignation letter that he wants Boris Johnson to resign. In his contribution to the Guardian’s panel verdict on the byelection results, he explains:
Oliver Dowden. Dowden is an astute political operator and was an early supporter of Boris Johnson in 2019 because he thought Johnson offered the best route to a Conservative general election victory. It is obvious from Dowden’s resignation letter that he now thinks that Johnson’s resignation is the best route to winning the next general election.
When Dowden writes of it no longer being possible to carry on with “business as usual” and that “somebody must take responsibility”, it is not really his own position that he has in mind. The question now is whether other Ministers will follow.
You can read all three panel verdicts here.
And here is Dowden’s letter in full.
Here is Lewis Baston’s analysis of the significance of the byelection results.
And here is an extract.
The previous time a government lost two seats in byelections on the same night was on 7 November 1991 when the Conservatives lost Langbaurgh (Cleveland) to Labour and Kincardine and Deeside (Aberdeenshire) to the Liberal Democrats. Conservatives will point out that five months later in the 1992 general election they regained both seats and won an overall majority in the Commons, but they would be unwise to imagine that their problems in 2022 will be resolved so easily.
The swing to Labour in highly marginal Langbaurgh in 1991 was only a quarter of what it was in Wakefield, and Kincardine had been a long-term Lib Dem target as opposed to a triumph from a standing start like Tiverton. Most of the economic bad news had happened by the time of the 1991 byelections, while in 2022 the cliff edge is in front of us; in 1991 the Conservatives had John Major, a new prime minister who was regarded as competent, unifying and honest, while in 2022 they have Boris Johnson.
Starmer says Wakefield byelection win shows Labour on course to form next government
Keir Starmer was in Wakefield this morning to celebrate Labour’s byelection victory. He claimed it was a historic result that put his party on course to win the next general election. He said:
This swing is significant, 12.7% swing to Labour. That is huge. That tells you that the next government is going to be a Labour government, and the sooner the better because the country voted yesterday, in both byelections, no confidence in this out-of-touch, out-of-ideas government. So this is a historic byelection as far as we’re concerned.
For two years we have been changing the Labour party to make it into that confident party, that party that is facing the voters, that is laser-like focused on the issues that affect them. And that’s why people have put their faith in Simon [Lightwood, the candidate], put their faith in our Labour party. I couldn’t be prouder of this historic moment on the step towards the next Labour government.
Prof Sir John Curtice’s assessment of what the result means for Labour is not quite that positive. (See 9.11am.)
Here are tweets from two Tory MPs already on the record as calling for Boris Johnson to go who have expressed their support for Oliver Dowden, and said he should not take the blame for the byelection defeats.
From Angela Richardson
From Simon Hoare
Neil Parish, whose resignation as a Conservative MP over watching porn in the Commons triggered the Tiverton and Honiton byelection, said the Tories should “face reality” and accept Boris Johnson’s unpopularity. Parish told Radio Devon:
What is becoming increasingly necessary for the party and the MPs to discuss what is the long term position of the prime minister. The public are concerned.
You cannot ignore people. It was a very safe seat. I’m afraid at the moment there is too much distraction and we are not getting on with the job.
We are all expendable. That is the issue, is Boris a winner or isn’t he? That will be the issue for MPs going forward.
He can make that decision and he alone will make that decision. You cannot ignore people and you ask them their verdict – and it’s clear their verdict this morning and it is for the PM to look at it very seriously.
Parish said he was “very fond” of Boris Johnson but added: “The trouble is he does bluster and the time for blustering is over and we must really face reality now.”
He said the massive swing against the Tories was a “shock” but he claimed it was “very much a national vote” and added: “I’m afraid the party paid the price for it.”
Parish said of his own downfall: “It’s a shame I made such a terrible mistake.” But he said the presidential style of politics meant the PM was the main focus in the byelection. He said:
It is the leader of your party and their reputation that is up for trial, especially in a byelection.
According to Beth Rigby, the Sky News political editor, Boris Johnson was “blindsided” by Oliver Dowden’s resignation. He was not expecting it, even though Dowden had warned him earlier this week to expect defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. Johnson was told about Dowden’s resignation this morning, as he finished an early morning swim in Kigali. He and Dowden had a brief conversation, Rigby said.
Elections expert John Curtice says Tories now doing as badly in byelections as under John Major
Prof Sir John Curtice, the leading psephologist, gave his assessement of the significance of the byelection results to the Today programme earlier. He had bad news for both main parties.
- Curtice said the Tories were doing as badly in byelections now as John Major’s government was doing in byelections in the 1992-1997 parliament. Over the last year the Conservative vote had fallen by 20 points on average in the byelections where they were defending seats, he said. The Tories won Old Bexley and Sidcup, but lost the other four (Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire, Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton). He said this had not happened since the Major era.
- Curtice said the Tories should also be worried by the extent of tactical voting against the Conservatives. This was crucial in Tiverton and Honiton, he said. The Labour vote there was down 16 points, he said, and the Lib Dems won by 14 percentage points. (See 6.52am.)
- But he also said the Wakefield result did not suggest “any great enthusiasm for the Labour party”. The decline in the Conservative vote was more than twice as big as the rise in the Labour vote, he said. (See 6.55am.) He went on:
It looks as though quite a lot of voters in Wakefield who were unhappy with the Conservatives took the opportunity to vote for an independent candidate who was a Tory councillor who resigned in March in part over Partygate. He got 7% of the vote and a lot of that probably came from the Conservatives.
- Curtice said there were 10 byelections in the 2010-15 parliament where Labour’s share of the vote went up by more than the eight percent points it did in Wakefield. (They were: Oldham East and Saddleworth, Barnsely Central, Leicester South, Feltham and Heston, Corby, Manchester Central, Middlesbrough and Wythenshawe and Sale East.) But Ed Miliband still lost the 2015 general election, he said. Curtice went on:
There still seems to be a question about the extent to which voters, many of whom clearly aren’t happy with the Conservatives, are necessarily as yet bought into Labour as an alternative.
- He said, on the basis of the swing in Tiverton and Hontiton, there were 333 Conservative MPs who would lose their seats to the Liberal Democrats. Acknowledging that life does not work like this, Curtice said “slightly less nonsensely” the swing to Labour in Wakefield was “probably just enough to generate a Labour overall majority [at a general election]”.
In his Today programme interview Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy first minister, claimed the failure of Conservative supporters to turn out was a key factor in the defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. He said:
My view is that the byelections, both of them, were the result of the perfect storm of very difficult local scenarios, given the situations of the previously sitting Conservative MPs, plus the national headwinds, first of all, inevitably, for a mid-term government, but also, frankly, the distractions that we’ve had.
I think the prime minister put it well: we need to listen very carefully, we need to take that feedback.
I think [with] Tiverton, the most striking thing is how many of our supporters didn’t come out. We need to spend the next two years absolutely relentlessly focused on delivering our plan, without those distractions and with a real calm focus on delivering.
Johnson avoids accepting responsibility for Tory byelection defeats in letter to Dowden
Boris Johnson has not accepted any personal responsibility for the Tory byelection defeats in the open letter he has written responding to Oliver Dowden’s resignation. (See 6.44am.) Johnson told Dowden:
Thank you for your letter and I am sad to see you leave government.
As minister for the Cabinet Office, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport and co-chairman of the Conservative party, it has been a pleasure to work alongside you for the last three years.
In each of those roles you have given your best and focused on delivering for the British people.
Whilst I completely understand your disappointment with the by-election results, this government was elected with a historic mandate just over two years ago to unite and level up. I look forward to continuing to work together on that.
In his letter Johnson seems to be wilfully misinterpreting the message in Dowden’s letter. When Dowden said that supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events”, he was not referring only to election defeats. He also seemed to be referring to Partygate, and to Johnson’s own conduct. (Dowden’s language is very similar to the language used by many other Tory MPs when they sent emails to constituents who asked for their response to the Sue Gray report revelations.)
Johnson does not acknowledge this. Instead it sounds more as if he is saying that the person Dowden should be disappointed in is Dowden himself.
Here is Johnson’s letter.
Asked if Boris Johnson had asked Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, to make inquiries about a possible job for his wife, Raab said he had no knowledge of that.
When it was put to him that Boris Johnson would remain a distraction for the government, Raab said he did not accept that. He claimed Johnson was someone who had got the big calls right.
Raab says Tories will respond to byelection defeats by focusing 'relentlessly' on delivery
Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, is on the Today programme. He is standing in for Oliver Dowden, who had been scheduled to speak for the government, but who resign instead.
Asked what would change as a result of the byelection defeats, Raab sidestepped the question and instead insisted the government had a “positive agenda”.
The opposition parties did not have an agenda, he claimed. He said their only strategy was to run an electoral pact.
At the general election the choice facing voters would be different, he said.
Nick Robinson, the presenter, said that in Dowden’s resignation letter he said the party could not carry on “with business as usual”. He asked Raab again what was going to change. In response, Raab stressed the government’s determination to tackle the problems facing the country. He went on:
We will be relentlessly focused on deliver ... The change is not allowing anything to get in the way of that.
Sir Roger Gale, who was one of the first Conservative MPs to call for Boris Johnson’s resignation over Partygate earlier this year, told BBC Breadkfast this morning that the PM had “trashed” the party’s reputation.
Asked if he expected other cabinet ministers to follow Oliver Dowden’s lead and resign, Gale replied:
It is possible that that may happen but it is up to my colleagues in the cabinet to decide whether they can go on supporting a prime minister who, frankly, has trashed the reputation of the Conservative party, my party, for honesty, for decency, for integrity and for compassion.
Asked who should replace Johnson, Gale said the party was “spoilt for choice”. He said:
There are several people who would make very good prime ministers within the party and one of those will emerge between now and the next general election and lead us into the next general election, which I trust we shall win.
Johnson says he wants to 'reflect on where voters are', as he insists governments normally lose mid-term byelections
BBC News has now broadcast a fuller clip from Boris Johnson responding to the byelection defeats from Rwanda this morning. He said that he did not want to minimise the importance of what happened - but then went on to it was normal for governments to lose byelections in mid term. He said:
I think that what governments also have to recognise is that I don’t want to minimise the importance of what voters are saying, but it is also true that in mid-term, government, post-war, lose by-elections.
I think if you look back to last May the truly astonishing thing was we managed to win Hartlepool in very different circumstances.
What we need to do now is reflect on where voters are, and what they are basically feeling is that we came through Covid well and we took a lot of the right decisions there. But we are facing pressures on the costs of living.
We are seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs, that is hitting people. We have to recognise that there is more that we have got to do and we certainly will, we will keep going addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.
Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, told BBC Breakfast that the Wakefield election result was beyond her wildest dreams. She said:
We were obviously hoping for victory last night in Wakefield, but the result went beyond our wildest dreams.
It was a higher turnout than we expected, a much bigger swing, and a much bigger vote share as well, which went far beyond any that we’ve achieved for several general elections in a row now.
I think there was a kind of narrative about Wakefield that it was a safe Labour seat that just happened to go blue in 2019, but, actually, it’s been quite a marginal seat for several general elections in a row.
This is one of the biggest majorities that Labour has returned for almost 20 years. So, we are thoroughly delighted with the trust that the people of Wakefield have placed in Simon Lightwood and Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.
Oliver Dowden had been due to do the morning broadcast interview round on behalf of the government. But he not not turn up for a scheduled interview with Sky News and, on the Today programme a few minutes ago, the presenter Mishal Husain suggested she did not expect him to turn up there either.
This suggests that, although Dowden’s resignation letter contained implied criticism of Boris Johnson, he has not gone fully rogue. No 10 may not want him on the airwaves now, but he would be perfectly free to give interviews if he wanted to. He may be holding back because he does not want to say any more than what he said in his letter.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, told LBC that the lesson from the Tiverton and Honiton byelection was that Boris Johnson should go. He said:
We’ve just had the biggest by-election victory here in Devon. No majority of this size has ever been overturned in a by-election, so I’m pretty chipper today.
We are smiling here and the message from Tiverton and Honiton, the people here in Devon, is that Boris Johnson must go. I think they’ve spoken for the whole of the British people and it really is time he left ...
I think [the result] speaks on behalf of people - Boris Johnson really must be pushed out.
Johnson suggests cost of living crisis to blame for Tory election defeats
This is what Boris Johnson told broadcasters in Kigali this morning about the byelection defeats. He is in Rwanda for the Commonwealth summit.
Johnson implied that the cost of living crisis was to blame for what happened, not his own conduct or leadership. He said:
It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough by-election results. They’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise voters are going through a tough time at the moment.
I think, as a government, I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which, I think, for most people is the number one issue.
We’re now facing pressures on the cost of living, we’re seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs - that’s hitting people.
We’ve got to recognise there is more we’ve got to do and we certainly will, we will keep going, addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.
Johnson also thanked Oliver Dowden for his work as Conservative co-chair.
This is from James Johnson, a Tory pollster (who worked for Theresa May in No 10) whose firm JL Partners carried out polling in Wakefield, on who ought to be taking the blame for the byelection defeats.
Johnson says he will 'listen' to voters but 'keep going' after historic byelection defeats
PM Media has just snapped this.
Boris Johnson has said he will “listen” to voters but will “keep going” after the Tories suffered a double by-election defeat.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP and treasurer of the backbench 1922 Committee, told the Today programme this morning that he wanted to hear how Boris Johnson responds to the byelection defeats. After that, he would listen to colleague, and local activists, and “some difficult decisions” might need to be taken.
Clifton-Brown voted against Johnson in the recent no confidence vote. The main option open to Tories who want to remove Johnson now is to change the party rules, to allow a second no confidence vote soon (under the current system, Johnson is safe for a year). But since the last one confidence vote took place less than three weeks ago, an imminent repeat seems unlikely.
Boris Johnson will have woken up in Rwanda this morning knowing that 4,000 miles away, he is facing immense pressure for his resignation following two heavy by-election defeats.
His aides are understood to be planning interviews this morning which will seek to respond to the losses in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton as well as Oliver Dowden’s pointed resignation letter.
Before boarding a plane for Kigali on Wednesday night, the prime minister described as “crazy” a suggestion that he should quit if he lost both votes. He said:
Governing parties generally do not win byelections, particularly not in midterm. You know, I’m very hopeful, but you know, there you go.
Asked to confirm he was not considering his future, he replied: “Are you crazy?”
He is due to hold a meeting with Prince Charles at 10am, UK time, his first since the heir to the throne was widely reported as having criticised the UK’s asylum deal with Rwanda.
Johnson will also attend the official opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, alongside Charles, who will open the event.
This is from Gavin Barwell, who was chief of staff in No 10 when Theresa May was PM and who is a frequent critic of Boris Johnson’s. Barwell is right to say that Dowden is the first person to resign from cabinet in whole or in part in protest at Boris Johnson’s conduct over Partygate.
The Tiverton and Honiton election result can be described as the worst byelection result in modern times for the party that lost in terms of overall size of the majority overturned (24,239). But psephologists prefer to judge election results by swing (the extent to which voters switched from one party to another). On this measure, the Tiverton and Honiton is not quite the worst for the Tories since the second world war, but it is still dire. Ian Jones from PA Media has the figures.
Results of Wakefield byelection in full
And here are the results of the Wakefield byelection in full.
Simon Lightwood (Lab) 13,166 (47.94%, +8.13%)
Nadeem Ahmed (C) 8,241 (30.00%, -17.26%)
Akef Akbar (Ind) 2,090 (7.61%, +6.60%)
David Herdson (Yorkshire) 1,182 (4.30%, +2.38%)
Ashley Routh (Green) 587 (2.14%)
Chris Walsh (Reform) 513 (1.87%)
Jamie Needle (LD) 508 (1.85%, -2.09%)
Ashlea Simon (Britain 1st) 311 (1.13%)
Mick Dodgson (FA) 187 (0.68%)
Sir Archibald Stanton Earl ‘Eaton (Loony) 171 (0.62%)
Paul Bickerdike (CPA) 144 (0.52%)
Therese Hirst (Eng Dem) 135 (0.49%)
Jordan Gaskell (UKIP) 124 (0.45%)
Christopher Jones (NIP) 84 (0.31%)
Jayda Fransen (Ind) 23 (0.08%)
Lab maj 4,925 (17.93%)
12.69% swing C to Lab
Electorate 69,601; Turnout 27,466 (39.46%, -24.69%)
2019: C maj 3,358 (7.46%) - Turnout 45,027 (64.15%) Ahmad-Khan (C) 21,283 (47.27%); Creagh (Lab) 17,925 (39.81%); Wiltshire (Brexit) 2,725 (6.05%); Needle (LD) 1,772 (3.94%); Kett (Yorkshire) 868 (1.93%); Whyte (Ind) 454 (1.01%)
Results of Tiverton and Honiton byelection byelection in full
Here are the results of the Tiverton and Honiton byelection in full.
Richard Foord (LD) 22,537 (52.91%, +38.14%)
Helen Hurford (C) 16,393 (38.49%, -21.72%)
Liz Pole (Lab) 1,562 (3.67%, -15.88%)
Gill Westcott (Green) 1,064 (2.50%, -1.34%)
Andy Foan (Reform) 481 (1.13%)
Ben Walker (UKIP) 241 (0.57%, -1.06%)
Jordan Donoghue-Morgan (Heritage) 167 (0.39%)
Frankie Rufolo (FB) 146 (0.34%)
LD maj 6,144 (14.43%)
29.93% swing C to LD
Electorate 81,661; Turnout 42,591 (52.16%, -19.71%)
2019: C maj 24,239 (40.66%) - Turnout 59,613 (71.86%)
Parish (C) 35,893 (60.21%); Pole (Lab) 11,654 (19.55%); Timperley (LD) 8,807 (14.77%); Reed (Green) 2,291 (3.84%); Dennis (UKIP) 968 (1.62%)
Oliver Dowden quits as Tory chair, taking swipe at Johnson's conduct, after Tories suffer historic byelection defeats
Good morning. The Conservatives have suffered two devastating byelection defeats (which was expected) and a senior Tory has resigned (which was not expected). But it is not the figure most responsible for the party’s plight. Instead, Oliver Dowden has quit from his post as Conservative party co-chair.
Labour was seen as a dead cert to win Wakefield, which had been a Labour seat since the second world war until the 2019 election, but they won with a very healthy swing of almost 13%. But the Tories also lost Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats. On one measure, this is is the worst byelection defeat in modern electoral history, because never before has such a large majority been overturned. The swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems was almost 30%.
Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story about the results.
And here is an extract from Dowden’s resignation letter to the PM.
Yesterday’s parliamentary byelections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party. Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings.
We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.
The reference to feeling “distressed and disappointed” by recent events reads like an attack on Boris Johnson’s conduct over Partygate, and there is nothing in the letter expressing support for the PM.
But Dowden’s resignation could turn out to be convenient for Johnson, in line with the way many organisations respond to a calamity by following the age-old principle “junior heads must roll”. Until now he has been loyal to Johnson; is he voluntarily playing the role of scapegoat?
I will be focusing almost exclusively on reaction to the result today.
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