Boris Johnson vows to 'listen to voters' and keep going despite by-election defeats

Sky News

It was always going to be a tricky challenge defending two parliamentary seats which became vacant following high-profile political scandals, and the Conservatives failed to do so on Thursday night.

Boris Johnson’s party suffered losses in both Wakefield and the Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton in a double whammy of by-election defeats.

So what exactly happened? Allow us to explain.

The Wakefield by-election

This by-election was triggered after the constituency’s former MP, Imran Ahmed Khan, was convicted in April of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

He went on to formally resign his seat so he could “focus entirely on clearing my name”.

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Mr Khan ousted Labour’s Mary Creagh back in the December 2019 general election, winning 21,283 votes to his opponent’s 17,925 – a vote share of 47.3 per cent.

Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed, who hoped to hold the seat for his party on Thursday, had previously suggested voters should continue to trust the Conservatives the same way people “trust GPs after Harold Shipman” – one of the most prolific serial killers in modern history.

For those unfamiliar, Shipman was estimated to have killed more than 250 people, including patients in his care,

The horrific blunder probably didn’t help Mr Ahmed, as Labour reclaimed the seat with 13,166 votes compared to the Tories’ 8,231.

The winner, Simon Lightwood, said “the next Labour government has been born in this room tonight” following his victory.

And Twitter users were soon expressing their delight at the news, too:

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has since congratulated Mr Lightwood on his win and described it as a “historic victory”.

The Tiverton and Honiton by-election

This seat in Devon was vacated after Neil Parish admitted he was the Tory MP who watched pornography in the House of Commons, days after he appeared on GB News talking about the then-unnamed individual in the third person.

The former backbencher told BBC South West last month “it was tractors I was looking at” prior to the incident occurring, leading to the whole sorry affair being dubbed the ‘tractor porn’ saga.

“I did get into another website with sort of a very similar name and I watched it for a bit, which I shouldn’t have done,” Mr Parish said.

We still don’t know if he confused CornHub with Pornhub - as we’ve all done at some point, right?

Nevertheless, Helen Hurford’s hopes of keeping Tiverton and Honiton blue were dashed on Thursday night when the Tories lost the seat to Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats.

Their candidate, Richard Foord, gained 22,537 votes and overturned a 24,000 Conservative majority – a victory he said was “absolutely staggering”.

And it seems Twitter couldn’t quite believe it either:

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said his party had “made political history” with the result.

Mr Dowden bows out

There has been one resignation following the defeats, but probably not the one many were hoping for.

Oliver Dowden, the former culture secretary who was – until Friday – Conservative party chairman, wrote to the prime minister to tender his resignation after the “very poor results”.

He said: “Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their findings. 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.”

Mr Dowden concluded his letter by saying Conservative volunteers and staffers “deserve better than this” and that it was a “deeply personal decision that I have taken alone”.

It is, nevertheless, a decision which many Twitter users have gleefully ridiculed:

It’s understood Mr Dowden was also due to do the morning broadcast round on Friday too. Awkward.

Mr Johnson has since replied to the Hertsmere MP’s resignation letter and said: “Whilst I completely understand your disappointment with the by-election results, this government was elected with an historic mandate just over two years ago to unite and level up.”

Mr Johnson’s response to the losses

Unsurprisingly, the politician previously described as a “greased piglet” by former prime minister David Cameron is refusing to accept responsibility for the two defeats.

It’s almost as if Mr Johnson’s allergic to the word – perhaps that’s why he had an operation on his sinuses earlier this week.

Speaking to broadcasters in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, where he’s looking to drum up support for his controversial deportation policy, the Conservative Party leader said he has “got to listen to what people are saying”.

And so he’s decided his government will “keep going”.

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.”

Yet with Partygate and all its fallout continuing to hang over the PM, we’d argue the current crisis is less of a “patch” but rather a whole bleeding field.

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