• Sunday, December 04, 2022

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‘We cannot carry on with business as usual’: Britain’s Conservative party chair resigns after by-election defeats

The by-elections also follow months of scandals and setbacks that have severely dented the popularity of Johnson and his party.

Oliver Dowden (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

Oliver Dowden, the chairman of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative party, resigned on Friday, saying it could not carry on with business as usual after two crushing by-election defeats and someone had to take responsibility.

“Yesterday’s parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party. Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings,” Dowden said in a resignation letter to Johnson.

“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.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservatives suffered two crushing parliamentary by-election defeats on Friday, including in a southwest English seat previously held by the party for over a century.

The Tories lost the Tiverton and Honiton seat to the centrist Liberal Democrats while the main opposition Labour party took back the Wakefield constituency in northern England, in stunning twin results set to pile new pressure on Johnson.

The votes were held Thursday after the two areas’ former Tory MPs both resigned in disgrace in recent months.

Tiverton and Honiton’s ex-lawmaker Neil Parish quit after admitting watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons, while Wakefield’s Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

The by-elections also follow months of scandals and setbacks that have severely dented the popularity of Johnson and his party, and come just weeks after he narrowly survived an attempt by his own lawmakers to oust him as Tory leader and prime minister.

The Conservatives had been tipped to lose both by-elections and Johnson vowed Thursday — while in Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit — not to resign if that occurred.

The Liberal Democrats overturned a Tory majority of more than 24,000 to win Tiverton and Honiton — which had voted Conservative in every general election since the 1880s — by more than 6,000 votes.

Meanwhile, in Wakefield near Leeds — one of dozens of former Labour seats that Johnson took in 2019 on a promise to “get Brexit done” and address glaring regional economic inequalities — the opposition party won by nearly 5,000 votes.

In speeches hailing their victories, both newly-elected MPs said Britain had lost faith in Johnson and urged him to quit following the highly damaging “Partygate” scandal centred on lockdown-breaching gatherings in Downing Street.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is eyeing replacing Johnson as prime minister after the next general election due by 2024, said his party’s victory in one of its former heartland seats showed it could win back power for the first time in more than a decade.

“Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tories,” he said in a statement.

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

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.

“It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough by-election results… I think as a government I’ve got to listen to what people are saying,” Johnson told broadcasters in Kigali after the results.

“We’ve got to recognise there is more we’ve got to do … we will keep going addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.”

Following the losses in Tiverton and Honiton in southwest England, and Wakefield in the north, Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden resigned in a carefully worded letter that hinted he believed Johnson should take responsibility for the election defeats.

“Yesterday’s parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party. Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings,” Dowden said in a resignation letter to Johnson.

“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,” added Dowden, a long-time ally of Johnson.

Several Conservative lawmakers tweeted support for Dowden, saying he was not to blame for the results in messages that suggested resurgent dissent against Johnson’s leadership.

Although under his party’s rules Johnson cannot face another confidence motion for a year, lawmakers fearing for their own futures may decide to reduce the grace period to bring about a second vote.

However, that might take time. It would entail changes to the committee that represents Conservative lawmakers who do not have government jobs.

A wave of resignations from Johnson’s cabinet team of top ministers could also be another route for the prime minister to be forced out before the next national election, scheduled to be held in 2024. It could be called earlier.

Johnson pledges to tackle cost of living

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Friday to do more to tackle a cost-of-living crisis and listen to people’s concerns after suffering bruising defeats.

“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,” he told reporters in Kigali where he is attending a Commonwealth meeting.

“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.”

(Reuters)

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