‘A loud and clear message’ – UK Conservatives crushed in by-elections, dealing blow to PM Johnson

  • UK Conservatives lost Wakefield, Tiverton and Honiton in by-elections.
  • The result is a major blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  • His government has been plagued by scandal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was defeated in two parliamentary by-elections on Friday after a historic collapse in support, in a fresh blow for the embattled leader that will likely renew speculation about his future.

The losses – one in the Conservatives’ traditional southern heartlands and in a northern England seat won from Labor last election – suggest that the electoral coalition Johnson brought together at the 2019 national election may be fracturing after months of scandal and amid a growing cost-of -living crisis.

READ | UK’s wounded Johnson presses on despite Tory rebellion

Johnson has come under intense pressure to resign after he was fined for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules after a police investigation into gatherings at his Downing Street offices.

This month, he survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers, though 41% of his parliamentary colleagues voted to oust him, and he is under investigation by a committee over whether he intentionally misled Parliament.

The Conservatives lost a majority of more than 24 000 votes in Tiverton and Honiton, in a deeply Conservative part of southwest England, defeated by the centrist Liberal Democrats who secured a majority of more than 6 000.

‘Loud and clear message’

The Liberal Democrats said it was the biggest ever majority to be overturned at a British parliamentary by-election, suggesting that other Conservative lawmakers may be at risk of losing their seats in the party’s southern heartlands.

The winning Lib Dem candidate Richard Foord said in his victory speech:

Tonight, the people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for Britain. They’ve sent a loud and clear message: It’s time for Boris Johnson to go, and go now.

“With every day Boris Johnson clings to the office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect.”

In the separate parliamentary seat of Wakefield in northern England, the opposition Labor party also defeated the Conservatives.

“Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tories. This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in a statement.

The two by-elections were the voters’ first chance to give their verdict on Johnson since a damning government report last month detailed a series of illegal lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street during the pandemic.

Johnson led the Conservatives to their biggest majority in three decades at the 2019 national election, winning praise from his party for his ability to win in traditionally Labor-voting areas in north and central England.

However, the loss of Wakefield could indicate that his ability to win again in these areas at the next national election, expected in 2024, has been compromised too.

Johnson on Thursday rejected the suggestion that he could resign if the Conservatives lost both seats, saying it was common for governing parties to lose mid-term by-elections.

The by-elections were triggered by high-profile resignations of Conservative lawmakers – one who admitted watching pornography in parliament, and another found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.


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