By-election results: Michael Howard urges Boris Johnson to go after Tory defeats — follow live | News

Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, has told members of the cabinet to “consider their positions” as he said that Boris Johnson should resign.

Howard — who led the party from 2003 to 2005 in opposition and is now a peer, Lord Howard of Lympne — told World at One on BBC Radio 4: “The party and more importantly the country would be better off under new leadership.

The comments will add further pressure to the prime minister after Oliver Dowden resigned as Conservative Party chairman this morning after the big defeats for the Tories in the by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton.

Oliver Dowden’s letter of resignation

Oliver Dowden’s letter of resignation

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds and treasurer of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, urged Johnson to cut short his visit to Rwanda, where he is attending the Commonwealth summit, and set out for his party how he is going to fix the crisis it finds itself in.

Clifton-Brown told Times Radio that backbenchers could still consider “whether we should trigger a leadership contest”, despite Johnson surviving a confidence vote at the start of this month.

Johnson cannot face another challenge for a year. However, rebel Tories will try to take over the committee in elections due in the next two weeks, in the hopes of changing the rules to allow a second attempt.

Dowden, who was seen as an ally of the prime minister, said in his letter of resignation that Conservative supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events”.

In Tiverton & Honiton, in Devon, Richard Foord of the Liberal Democrats overturned a majority of more than 24,000, making it the biggest Conservative margin overturned in a British by-election. The record was previously held by Labour, after the party won in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935, where the Tory majority had been 23,972.

Sir Keir Starmer meets the new MP for Wakefield, Simon Lightwood, this morning

Sir Keir Starmer meets the new MP for Wakefield, Simon Lightwood, this morning

DANNY LAWSON/PA

The Lib Dems secured a 6,144 majority in Tiverton & Honiton, with an almost 30 percentage point swing.

In Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, Labour won with a majority of 4,925 on a 12.7 percentage point swing. It was an expected victory for Sir Keir Starmer’s party, which lost its grip of the constituency for the first time since 1932 at the last general election.

Starmer said the Conservatives were “absolutely imploding” after Dowden’s resignation. He said that the win in Wakefield was a “huge result for the Labour Party”, adding: “This puts us now absolutely on track for a Labour government, which is absolutely coming.”

Speaking in Rwanda after the by-election defeats, Johnson said he would “listen” to the message from voters, but vowed to “keep going” as prime minister.

Rebels plan takeover of 1922 Committee

Tory rebels are planning a takeover of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers to allow another attempt to oust Boris Johnson (Chris Smyth writes).

Opponents of the prime minister are planning to nominate a slate of candidates sympathetic to changing rules that bar another leadership challenge for the next year.

Steve Baker, who has called for Johnson to quit, is among those expected to stand in elections for the executive backbench committee, due in the next two weeks.

He is said to have rebuffed appeals from rebels to organise against the prime minister, but will be dangerous for Johnson given the committee’s role in overseeing the rules of leadership elections.

“Like so many backbench MPs, I am looking to the cabinet for leadership, especially from those who aspire to be seen to provide it,” he said.

Andrew Bridgen was the first MP to explicitly say he would be standing for election to the 1922 Committee on an explicit platform of changing the rules. “I’m going to put my hat in the ring on a manifesto of rule change, and clearly if a majority of the committee are elected with that mindset then the rules can be changed,” he told GB News.

Six officers and 12 executive members are chosen by Tory backbenchers after every Queen’s Speech to run the 1922 Committee, which oversees leadership elections.

“It will be fairly obvious from some of the people putting their names forward who people should vote for if they have the best interest of the Conservative party at heart rather than just propping up the PM,” said one leading rebel.Efforts are being made to find candidates who are “open to the possibility of suspending the rule” banning another confidence vote for a year.

“You don’t need to win all the seats, you just need a majority,” they said. “The conversations are happening. They’ve been going on since before the confidence vote and they are stepping up now.”

On the other side, Johnson loyalists are also mobilising to elect members who would block a change. “People will do whatever they can to get a majority of the committee for their side of the argument,” one said.

“Irrespective of which side of the argument you are on, you don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. At half time you don’t change the rules to ensure you score more goals in the second half.”

Come home and sort out this mess, PM told

A senior Conservative has told Boris Johnson to come home from Rwanda and deal with the “really serious situation” his party is in so MPs can decide whether to oust him or not (Geraldine Scott writes).

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, told Times Radio that Johnson had to set out to MPs how he was going to fix the crisis the Conservative Party finds itself in.

“And if we in the party don’t feel satisfied by his explanation, then I think we will trigger a leadership contest,” he said.

“There are two routes by which he could be persuaded to resign. One is by the whole executive of the 1922 Committee, having taken into account the wider views of the entire parliamentary party, then decide to change the rules. The other way is for the majority of the cabinet to say that they have no confidence in the prime minister, in which case he would not be able to carry on.

“So I think there will be a lot of conversations taking place next week and we’ll have to see what happens.”

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, announcing the result of the confidence vote

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, announcing the result of the confidence vote

STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA

At present, the rules of the 1922 Committee mean that a prime minister cannot face another challenge for a year after winning a confidence vote. However, there are suggestions that the rules could be changed.

Clifton-Brown added: “I did think a week or two ago that he would continue to lead us into the next election. I think now we’ve got to very seriously consider whether he’s going to be able to sort out the problems that I’ve alluded to, or whether actually we should trigger this leadership campaign.”

Elections due to be held next month for the 1922 Committee executive could be key in whether a rule change goes forward.

Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, who previously submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister, said he would be standing in the elections with the aim of changing the rules.

He told GB News: “I’m going to put my hat in the ring on a manifesto of rule change. I think [for] all the candidate who will put their names forward next week for the committee, I have no doubt the major question is are you in favour or against rule change.”

Like me, maybe it’s time for Johnson to move on, says disgraced ex-MP

The former Conservative MP for Tiverton & Honiton has said the ability of Boris Johnson to win votes is now “questionable” and that the prime minister might have to follow his lead and move on with his life (Geraldine Scott writes).

Neil Parish, who resigned after admitting watching pornography in parliament, triggering the by-election that the Tories lost to the Liberal Democrats overnight, said he was disappointed that he was no longer the constituency’s MP after 12 years.

He told Times Radio: “I’m getting over it, life moves on.”

Neil Parish had to step down as the MP for Tiverton & Honiton

Neil Parish had to step down as the MP for Tiverton & Honiton

JOHN KEEBLE/GETTY IMAGES

He said: “We are all expendable in politics, we’ve got to remember that, and so therefore I’ve got to sort of pick up the pieces, get on with my life and accept the situation, and I suspect that at some stage the prime minister may have to do the same.”

Parish said the issue with the prime minister was now a “matter of trust”.

He said: “We’re quite venal as MPs. We vote for those that can win. We don’t vote for those that can’t. And I think, you know, the question mark now is, is Boris still a winner or not? And I think it is very questionable at the moment.”

Parish also did not rule out a comeback in the future. He said: “I’ll never rule anything out at this stage, because it’s very foolish in politics.”

But he added: “I suspect my sort of major political career is now done.”

Lib Dem leader issues warning to Tories

The Liberal Democrats will assemble “an army of activists” to go after the Tories “seat by seat” if the party does not ditch Boris Johnson, Sir Ed Davey has said (Geraldine Scott writes).

In a victory speech in Tiverton, where the Lib Dems overcame a 24,000 Conservative majority, the party’s leader stood with the new MP Richard Foord next to a blue door with the words “it’s time to show Boris the door” written on it.

Davey said: “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.”

Richard Foord won more than 52 per cent of the vote

Richard Foord won more than 52 per cent of the vote

ANDREW MATTHEWS/PA

The Lib Dems have had a series of successes in former Tory strongholds, such as North Shropshire and Chesham & Amersham.

Addressing Tory MPs, Davey said: “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.”

Speaking to Times Radio, the party leader said: “This feels like the mid 1990s [when] we were seeing Liberal Democrats win lots of by-elections back to back. Probably not quite as many as we have done the last 12 months but we were still winning a lot. We saw a Tory government that was clearly out of ideas and had been around way too long and there was that feeling of the end of the regime. And on the back of those by-election victories for the Liberal Democrats we went up massively at the next general election. The Tories went down to a historic defeat. And that’s the sense I have at the moment. I think we could be looking at Boris Johnson either kicked out before the election by his own MPs, or if not, he and the Tories kicked out of power at the next general [election].”

Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem chief whip, congratulates Foord in Tiverton

Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem chief whip, congratulates Foord in Tiverton

ANDREW MATTHEWS/PA

The Lib Dems overcame a huge Tory majority to win by more than 6,000 votes in the poll, which was triggered by the resignation of the Conservative MP Neil Parish after he was caught viewing pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

Foord, a married father of three, said earlier that “every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect”.

He said: “I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing prime minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.

“If you don’t take action to restore decency, respect and British values to Downing Street, you too will face election defeats like the one we have seen here tonight.

“It is time to do what’s right for our country. You know in your heart that your leader is not the person to lead this great nation into the future.”

Why voters lost faith in Devon stronghold

Lifelong Tory voters in the former Conservative stronghold of Tiverton & Honiton said they switched to the Liberal Democrats or decided not to vote after becoming disillusioned with Boris Johnson’s government (Will Humphries writes).

Diane Margetson, 62, a delivery driver for Interflora florists on Cullompton high street, said she had “always” voted Conservative but during the by-election campaign the Lib Dems were “the only ones we have seen”.

“Boris needs to try and knuckle down and get stuff sorted. He has been very lackadaisical,” she said while watering the plants after opening up the shop.

The cost of living and the soaring price of fuel were big factors in her voting Lib Dem, as was the lockdown parties scandal.

“The recent headlines [about the parties] changed my vote,” she said. “I don’t know if I would vote Conservative in the general election. It depends on what is happening at the time. At the moment I think I would probably stick with the Lib Dems.”

The Lib Dems threw lots of resources at their campaign in the constituency

The Lib Dems threw lots of resources at their campaign in the constituency

FINNBARR WEBSTER/GETTY IMAGES

The views of two self-employed builders renovating a house down a side street of Cullompton town centre should give Conservative Party headquarters cause for concern.

Dave, 54, not his real name, said he had always voted Tory but opted for the Lib Dems for the first time because “I wanted something different”.

“The Tories look after the poor and the rich but the people in the middle get nothing,” he said. “We need a change and the working man needs a better deal.

“I voted for Boris [in 2019] because of Brexit, because I wanted to come out and mind our own borders, but we have got more immigrants coming than we ever used to.”

His fellow builder, aged 63, who did not want to be named, said he had voted Tory since he was 18 but could not bring himself to cast a ballot this time because “I thought no one is any good”.

“Since Covid I don’t know. I have lost a little bit of trust in Boris,” he said.

He was “gobsmacked” that the Tories did not win in their traditional heartland.

“I don’t want Starmer in. Labour won’t do anything for us,” he added. “I voted for Maggie [Thatcher] and she was ideal: get off your arse and work.”

A volunteer with stickers in support of Richard Foord, the Lib Dem candidate

A volunteer with stickers in support of Richard Foord, the Lib Dem candidate

FINNBARR WEBSTER/GETTY IMAGES

Walking down the high street under an umbrella in the morning mizzle, Brenda Iles, 80, a retired pub landlady, bucked the trend, as a lifelong Labour supporter who voted Conservative for the first time, purely because of her admiration for Boris Johnson.

“I think he has coped so well with Brexit, Covid and Ukraine. I don’t think anyone else could’ve done it so well,” she said.

“I don’t think Mr Starmer is very good. He spends a lot of time niggling at everybody rather than getting on with the job. I think Labour needs a new leader.”

Up the road in Tiverton, more lifelong Labour supporters were admitting changing allegiances for the by-election.

Behind the counter of Stillmans butchers, Ian Hunter, 61, the shop manager, said he “tactically voted” for the Lib Dems but was still “a little surprised” at the result.

“It’s about time we got the Tories out,” he said. “Labour didn’t really have a chance so like most people in the town I think it was tactical voting. I will most probably go back to Labour at the general election. This was to send a message.

“I had a lady in here yesterday who voted Labour all her life and was going to vote tactically.”

Sir Ed Davey and Richard Foord on the campaign trail last month

Sir Ed Davey and Richard Foord on the campaign trail last month

FINNBARR WEBSTER/GETTY IMAGES

Geoff Bloomfield, a retired assistant headteacher from Tiverton, who is recovering from a cataract operation, said he voted Lib Dem for the first time after becoming “fed up not just nationally but locally” with the Conservatives.

“The feeling amongst people here in Tiverton and Mid Devon generally is one of continual disappointment,” he said.

“I have been a lifelong Tory voter, I voted for Brexit, but it’s been a catalogue of mismanagement [from the government],” Bloomfield said.

“The Owen Paterson case [where Boris Johnson planned to rip up parliament’s standards system to block his suspension] wasn’t a good look; proroguing parliament; partygate; the lack of contrition and apologies and not putting their hands up; the trotting out MPs on a daily basis to justify the poor decisions that have been made. People aren’t stupid, they can see through this.”

Dowden’s resignation catches PM by surprise

Oliver Dowden called Boris Johnson shortly after 5am to tell him he was going to resign (writes Henry Zeffman in Kigali).

The prime minister had been swimming in his hotel pool in Kigali in Rwanda when Dowden phoned to notify him that he was about to publish a resignation letter.

Johnson was taken aback. “Oliver Dowden was there on Wednesday preparing him for PMQs,” a party source said. “He was almost breezily running through the lines that he would rehearse — he was due to do the morning round today — in the event of us losing the by-elections, which was not a shock. So what changed from Wednesday morning when Oliver was warning the PM that the by-elections would be heavily lost?”

At about 6am in the UK, the prime minister began his usual sequence of morning meetings, including one with Rishi Sunak where the resignation of his friend Dowden was on the agenda. The chancellor did not know Dowden had resigned until he joined the call. Johnson also spoke to Chris Heaton-Harris, the chief whip.

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie arrive at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda this morning

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie arrive at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda this morning

CHRIS JACKSON/GETTY IMAGES

There is “no rush”, the source said, to replace Dowden. “We don’t need a new party chairman by lunchtime. We have to think calmly and rationally at a time when he hasn’t got wall to wall engagements that are very, very important out here.”

Asked if the prime minister thought Dowden was wrong, the party source said: “He doesn’t disagree that somebody needs to take responsibility. He’s taken responsibility for the overall direction of the government. But these were by-elections in particularly difficult circumstances. The events that led to the by-elections being called were less than ideal and governments mid-term, particularly when they’ve been in power for more than one term, tend to lose by-elections. It’s not extraordinary.”

Pressed on whether it was right that people are “distressed” by the Downing Street parties scandal, the source said: “I don’t think that feeding people a diet of partygate helps them understand what this government is doing. And when they do understand, when they hear that the prime minister is focused almost myopically now on growing the economy and helping ease the burden posed by the cost of living crisis [public support will grow].”

The source continued: “The one thing the prime minister was found to be at fault over was an event in his own cabinet room outside of his office at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon with a well-known teetotaller, Rishi Sunak. There is a perception and reality problem that has dominated a lot of this year.”

Boris Johnson’s letter to Oliver Dowden after the Tory party chairman resigned this morning

Boris Johnson’s letter to Oliver Dowden after the Tory party chairman resigned this morning

PA

Tory candidate locks herself in room to escape cameras

The defeated Tory candidate in Tiverton & Honiton locked herself in a dance hall and refused to speak to the press less than half an hour after she arrived at the election count in the early hours of this morning (Geraldine Scott writes).

Helen Hurford arrived at the count in Crediton at about 3.30am but by 3.43am she had locked herself in a room which had been reserved for media interviews.

When she arrived at Lords Meadow leisure centre, she refused to answer questions from the press, but did speak to the local website DevonLive.

Helen Hurford congratulates Richard Foord, the new MP, after the result is announced

Helen Hurford congratulates Richard Foord, the new MP, after the result is announced

PAUL CHILDS/REUTERS

Hurford has stayed out of the spotlight throughout the campaign, turning down most offers from the media.

When she did invite the press along to campaigning, she faced questions about Boris Johnson and was booed.

Hurford spent 25 minutes in the room in the leisure centre, only emerging when she was called to the stage to find out the results. She then left immediately.

Hurford, a headteacher who was put up as the Conservative candidate following the resignation of Neil Parish, won 16,393 votes. Richard Foord, the new Liberal Democrat MP, got 22,537, winning the ballot.

Foord, of the Liberal Democrats, celebrates his victory

Foord, of the Liberal Democrats, celebrates his victory

ANDREW MATTHEWS/PA

He said: “This result is absolutely staggering. We weren’t expecting a win, let alone a win of this scale.”

He also warned the prime minister that “coups can happen” while leaders are abroad. Johnson is due to be out of the country — he has visits in Rwanda, Germany and then Spain — for another week.

Foord said: “The prime minister is obviously free to go and speak to counterparts on the world stage but actually he should be mindful of the fact that often when presidents and leaders are overseas, that’s when a coup can happen.”

Tories facing headwinds, Raab admits

Dominic Raab has described the Conservative Party’s losses in the by-elections as being the result of a “perfect storm”.

The deputy prime minister told Today on BBC Radio 4: “My view is that the by-elections, 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.

Dominic Raab speaking in parliament earlier this week

Dominic Raab speaking in parliament earlier this week

JESSICA TAYLOR/REUTERS

“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.”

Priti Patel said the government needed to “listen” and “reflect” after the by-election defeats.

The home secretary told Times Radio: “We also do need to carry on concentrating on growing the economy to address the challenges around costs of living … also, when we look at the NHS work, dealing with backlogs and investment, while at the same time providing the leadership that is clearly required in what are very difficult and challenging times.”

Asked about Oliver Dowden’s resignation as the Conservative Party chairman, she said: “Oliver’s a colleague of mine, so I’ve known him for many years and he’s been just wonderful to work with. And also, if I may, I know how hard by-elections are. And when you’re chairman of the party, running by-elections in difficult circumstances, against difficult backdrops, including some of the things that we’ve seen in Westminster such as the recent vote against the prime minister, it makes your job very hard. So it is a loss. I say that as a colleague, but also, he’s someone that’s worked incredibly hard in government. He’s been a cabinet secretary of state, and he’s been a very, very good Conservative Party chairman.”

More Tory seats could be in danger

If the results of the by-elections were repeated nationally, it would spell disaster for the Conservatives, with many senior politicians losing their seats (Geraldine Scott writes).

If the 29.9 point swing to the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton & Honiton were replicated country-wide, based on current constituency boundaries Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and leadership challenger, and Theresa May, the former prime minister, would lose their seats.

Labour’s swing in Wakefield, of 12.7 points, is around that needed for the opposition to be in with a shot of securing an overall majority at the next general election.

Officials count the votes in Crediton in Devon. There was a huge swing to the Lib Dems in the Tiverton & Honiton constituency

Officials count the votes in Crediton in Devon. There was a huge swing to the Lib Dems in the Tiverton & Honiton constituency

ANDREW MATTHEWS/PA

If this were to happen, Boris Johnson would be set to lose his seat, as would Iain Duncan Smith, the former party leader, George Eustice, the environment secretary, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary.

The next election will likely be fought on new constituency boundaries due to be finalised in summer next year, and by-elections are not always a reliable indicator of national polls.

Sir John Curtice, the polling expert, estimates that if the Tiverton & Honiton swing were seen nationwide, 333 Tory MPs could lose their seats.

PM blames cost of living crisis for setback

Boris Johnson blamed the by-election defeats on the spiralling cost of living and said there was “more to do” to help people cope with their bills (Henry Zeffman writes).

Speaking to broadcasters in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda where he is attending the Commonwealth summit, the prime minister 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 No 1 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.

The prime minister in Rwanda yesterday

The prime minister in Rwanda yesterday

DAN KITWOOD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

“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 denied that the by-election results were about his leadership, telling reporters: “That may be your view. 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, governments 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.”

Daniel Finkelstein: this is a disaster for the PM

It is very important not to over-analyse the by-election results. There are all sorts of clever things one can say about them (Daniel Finkelstein writes).

But in the end the right way to look at them is the simplest way. They seem like a disaster for the Tories, because they are.

Oliver Dowden’s reaction is appropriate. He is widely respected by Tory insiders for his political judgment, and widely liked, so his resignation sets an example. It also shows that one of the best political brains in the government understands how serious the position is.

Read the full article here.

John Curtice: winning the next general election just became much harder

The results in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton do not make easy reading for the Conservatives (John Curtice writes).

The 12.7 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour in Wakefield would, if replicated everywhere, be enough to deliver a Labour overall majority.

Meanwhile, as many as 333 Tory MPs could lose their seat if they suffered the 29.9 per cent swing from Conservative to Liberal Democrat registered in Tiverton & Honiton.

However, by-elections provide an exaggerated picture of a government’s mid-term electoral problems. The swings registered in the two by-elections would not necessarily have occurred in a general election on Thursday.

Read the full article here.

Defeats add to the PM’s woes

Although the prime minister had suggested losing the two by-elections was priced in, that is unlikely to do much to soothe those who fear the shine has rubbed off Boris Johnson (Geraldine Scott writes).

Fresh off the back of a confidence vote, which he narrowly won, Johnson has been fighting for survival on multiple fronts amid unease over the parties scandal and economic policies.

Some MPs felt campaigning in the two seats was futile while Johnson was still Conservative leader.

In the south, where the Liberal Democrats have targeted formerly safe Tory seats, MPs have felt rejected because of a focus on the north.

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie attended a banquet at the Commonwealth summit in Kigali, Rwanda, last night

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie attended a banquet at the Commonwealth summit in Kigali, Rwanda, last night

DAN KITWOOD/AP

But in the former red wall, MPs with tiny majorities will now fear it will be their seats that return to Labour next time the country goes to the polls.

“Who the hell are we a party for anymore?” one northern Conservative MP told The Times.

While Johnson is safe from another confidence vote, his extended trip to Rwanda, Germany and Spain in the coming days will restrict his ability to reassure MPs who think this result is another nail in the coffin for the prime minister.

He is likely to point out that governing parties are often hit by protest votes.

Michael Thrasher, a politics professor and elections analyst, suggested on Sky News that the results could point towards the possibility of a hung parliament at the next general election where Labour and the Lib Dems could form an overall majority.

“These by-elections do suggest that the Conservatives have a real job on their hands if they are to defend an 80-seat majority. Remember, they only need to lose 40 seats for that majority to evaporate and on the basis of these by-elections that’s the way they’re heading and we’re heading towards a hung parliament,” he said.

Oliver Dowden has resigned as Conservative Party chairman following the big defeats for the Tories in the by-elections (Geraldine Scott writes).

Dowden, in a letter to Boris Johnson, said supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings”.

He said the by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton were just “the latest in a run of very poor results for our party”.

Dowden, who as party chairman runs the Tory election machine, is seen as loyal to the Conservative Party and was due to represent the government on this morning’s broadcast round of media interviews. His resignation will prompt Tory MPs and cabinet ministers to consider their support for the prime minister and could trigger a wider reshuffle.

Oliver Dowden: “We cannot carry on with business as usual”

Oliver Dowden: “We cannot carry on with business as usual”

DANIEL LEAL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

He said: “We cannot carry on with business as usual.”

However, the letter says more in what it leaves out than what it includes. Often, ministerial resignation letters will include a pledge to support the prime minister from the back benches — Downden’s does not.

He also suggested “somebody must take responsibility” for the state of the party. He does not suggest who, but the implication is that that person is the prime minister, and Tory MPs have made clear on Twitter it should not be Dowden.

Dowden said Tory supporters “deserve better than this” but does not expand on what “this” is.

Also notable is that while the letter itself is typed, the date has been handwritten, pointing perhaps to it having been ready to submit in advance.

Dowden’s resignation is the first indication of a chink in ministerial support for Johnson.

More dangerous for the prime minister is Dowden was one of his first backers for No 10, when others dismissed his chances.

Dowden makes clear in his letter than he “will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party”. He does not make the same assurances over his loyalty to the prime minister.

Lib Dems have won Tiverton & Honiton

Richard Foord, of the Liberal Democrats, has won the Tiverton & Honiton by-election, taking the seat which the Tories had held with a majority of more than 24,000 in 2019.

Foord defeated the Tories’ Helen Hurford, who is said to have locked herself in the room previously reserved for media interviews and is refusing to speak to any press.

Foord won 22,537 votes to Hurford’s 16,393, giving him 52 per cent of the vote.

Labour has won back Wakefield from the Conservatives, having lost it in 2019 for the first time since 1932.

Simon Lightwood will become the constituency’s Labour MP. Nadeem Ahmed, the Conservative candidate, finished in second place. Lightwood previously worked for Mary Creagh, the Labour MP for Wakefield between 2005 and 2019.

Lightwood won 13,166 votes to Ahmed’s 8,241, giving him a majority of 4,925. The Conservative majority in 2019 was 3,358.

Turnouts revealed for both seats

The turnout in Wakefield has been confirmed as 39 per cent, with 27,205 ballots cast out of an electorate of 69,601. This is well below turnout in the constituency in general elections.

The turnout for Tiverton & Honiton has been confirmed as 52 per cent, with 42,707 votes cast. It was above 70 per cent in all general elections since its creation in 1997.

A quarter of recent by-elections resulted in the seat changing hands

These are the 60th and 61st by-elections since the 2005 general election.

Tiverton & Honiton: a Conservative heartland

The constituency of Tiverton & Honiton was created in its present form in time for the 1997 general election. Since then, it has returned a Conservative MP at every election, with an increased margin of victory each time.

Counting agents observe the Tiverton & Honiton count in Crediton

Counting agents observe the Tiverton & Honiton count in Crediton

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP

Wakefield: a former Labour stronghold

When Labour lost Wakefield in the 2019 general election, it was the first time that the party had failed to return an MP for the seat in nearly nine decades.

Votes being counted at Thornes Park Athletics Stadium

Votes being counted at Thornes Park Athletics Stadium

DANNY LAWSON/PA

By-election results expected

Welcome to The Times’s live coverage of the by-election results for Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton, where polls have closed and counting is under way.

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