Oliver Dowden steps down as Tory Speaker after by-election – ‘We can’t carry on business as usual’ | Political news



Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden resigned after the party fell in two by-elections.

Mr Dowden said in a letter to Boris Johnson that defeats were “the latest in a series of very poor results” and added: “We cannot carry on as business as usual.”

He is the first Cabinet minister to fall on his sword following pressure swirling around the Prime Minister over the partygate scandal – which has already prompted 148 Tory MPs to oppose the Prime Minister in a vote of defiance.

In a letter to Mr Dowden, the Prime Minister said he understood the MP’s ‘disappointment’ at the by-election defeats but said the government had a ‘historic mandate’ to govern.

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The Tories saw a majority of 24,000, or more than 40%, evaporate in Honiton and Tiverton, where they were beaten by the Liberal Democrats – a record setback for the party.

They also lost Wakefield, the ‘red wall’ seat snatched by the Tories in 2019, back to Labour.

Mr Dowden – who was due to take part in the series of interviews broadcast this morning – said: “Our supporters are saddened and disappointed by recent events, and I share their sentiments.

“We cannot carry on as if nothing has happened.

“Someone has to take responsibility and I have concluded that in these circumstances it would not be right for me to stay on.”

He added that it was a “deeply personal decision” and that he “will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party”.

Sky News political editor Beth Rigby understands the resignation took Mr Johnson by surprise.

A source close to the Prime Minister said he received a brief appeal from Mr Dowden shortly after making his decision public.

Sources close to the prime minister said he was blindsided by the news, especially as the former president prepared PMQs with him on Wednesday and warned they risked losing both by-elections.

The pounding of the Tories was Mr Johnson’s latest election massacre after the party lost nearly 500 council seats in local elections early last month.

They also suffered shocking results when the Liberal Democrats overthrew large Tory majorities in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham Last year.

The fallout from the latest votes comes with the Prime Minister thousands of miles away in Rwanda where he is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.

He said before the result that it would be “crazy” for him to resign if the Tories lost both seats.

And after the defeats, he stuck to his guns, saying it was normal for governments to be “punished at the ballot box” while in office.

Simon Lightwood, who won the Wakefield by-election for Labour, said: ‘I think people are absolutely tired of the lies and deceit we have seen from the Prime Minister and they are demanding change and tonight is proof of that.”

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Richard Foord, who took on Tiverton and Honiton for the Lib Dems, used his acceptance speech to call on Mr Johnson ‘to go and go now’, saying his victory had ‘sent shock waves through British politics “.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Wakefield has shown the country has lost faith in the Tories.

“This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party running out of energy and ideas.”

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Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “This should be a wake-up call for all those Tory MPs who support Boris Johnson. They cannot afford to ignore this outcome.

“The public is fed up with Boris Johnson’s lies and offenses and it’s time Tory MPs finally do the right thing and sack him.”

The by-elections, both in constituencies where the vote was free, took place on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum.

They were each triggered by the resignations of Tory MPs: in Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish resigned after admitting watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons; in Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan has resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

It became apparent shortly after the polls closed that it would be a bad night for the Conservatives.

Luke Hall, the party’s deputy chairman, told Sky News it was a “tough campaign” and highlighted the impact of the divisions exposed by the vote of confidence.

“I would certainly accept that disunity in political parties means parties not winning elections,” he said.


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