Boris Johnson has suffered a triple blow as the Tories crashed to two midterm defeats, prompting Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden to resign.
The Conservatives saw a majority of 24,000, or 40.6%, in the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honiton evaporates – record reverse for the party – when the Liberal Democrats won.
In Wakefield, the Red Wall constituency in West Yorkshire that was snatched by the Conservatives in 2019, it was Labor who took the victory.
Following the results of the by-elections, Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned and said in a letter to the Prime Minister: “We can not continue business as usual.”
Johnson thanked Mr Dowden for his service, but he said voters went through a “hard time” and promised to “keep going … until we get through this patch”.
It was the most recent election campaign for prime minister this year after the Tories lost almost 500 council seats at the beginning of last month.
Simon Lightwood, who won the midterm elections in Wakefield for Labor, said: “I think people are completely tired of the lies and deceptions we have seen from the Prime Minister and they are demanding change and tonight is the demonstration of that.”
Richard Foord, who took Tiverton and Horniton to the Lib Dems, used his acceptance speech to urge Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “go and go now”, claiming his victory had “sent a shock wave through British politics”.
Johnson has been under pressure due to the partygate scandal as well as the cost-of-living crisis that is squeezing British household budgets.
That pressure intensified when a no-confidence vote saw 148 Conservative MPs oppose him.
But in his condemnatory letter, Mr Dowden stepped up the game again, saying “Someone must take responsibility.”
Tory backbencher and fierce critic of the prime minister, Sir Roger Gale, said Mr Dowden was “a decent and honorable man who has clearly decided he can no longer defend the indefensible”.
His Conservative colleague, Angela Richardson – who withdrew as a junior assistant across partygate – also tweeted that the former party chairman “was probably not responsible for these results”, while MP Simon Hoare said he was “proud to call Oliver a friend” – never more than today “.
Johnson, who is attending the Commonwealth’s Intergovernmental Conference in Rwanda, said ahead of the midterm elections that he would “see the results with interest”, adding that “midterm elections are never necessarily easy for any government.”
He suggested it would be “crazy” for him to stop if he lost the two seats.
Following Mr Dowden’s resignation, the Prime Minister said: “I think as a government I need to listen to what people are saying, especially to the difficulties that people are facing in terms of the cost of living that I think Most people are number one problem.
“We need to recognize that there is more we need to do, and we certainly will, we will continue to address people’s concerns until we get through this patch.”
But Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Wakefield has shown that the country has lost confidence in the Tories.
“This result is a clear verdict on a Conservative party that has run out of energy and ideas.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Liberal Democrats have written political history with this amazing victory.
“This should be a wake-up call for all the Conservative MPs who support Boris Johnson. They can not afford to ignore this result.
“The public is tired of Boris Johnson’s lies and crimes, and it’s time for Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and fire him.”
The by-elections, both in holiday constituencies, took place on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit vote.
They were each triggered by the resignation of conservative MPs: In Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish resigned after admitting to watching pornography on his cell phone in the Commons chamber; in Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
It turned out shortly after the polls closed that it was going to be a bad night for the Tories.
Luke Hall, the party’s deputy chairman, told Sky News it had been a “challenging campaign”, pointing to the impact of divisions revealed by the vote of confidence.
“I will certainly accept that disagreement in political parties means that parties do not win elections,” he said.