Tory chair Oliver Dowden QUITS after party is wiped out in TWO by-elections

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Tory chair Oliver Dowden dramatically quit today after the party suffered a double by-election pummelling plunged Boris Johnson’s leadership into fresh crisis. 

In a letter hours after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, Mr Dowden said he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results.

The outgoing minister also delivered what appeared to be a coded attack on the PM, who is more than 4,000 miles away on a visit to Rwanda, saying the party cannot continue with ‘business as usual’.

Rather than stating his continuing loyalty to the premier in his resignation letter, Mr Dowden said he ‘remains loyal to the Conservative Party’. Aides did not respond to questions about whether he still supports Mr Johnson as leader.

Before the results a bullish Mr Johnson had branded the idea he should quit Downing Street ‘crazy’. 

The move – which came minutes before Mr Dowden was due to start broadcast interviews and at the least paves the way for a reshuffle – followed the bombshell results in West Yorkshire and Devon. The contests were lost by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership.

The Conservatives gave up the previously ultra-safe, Brexit-backing seat of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats, with Richard Foord winning by more than 6,000 votes in a seat where the party came third in 2019.

Helen Hurford, the Tory candidate, locked herself in a room previously reserved for media interviews at the constituency’s election count in a sports centre in Crediton, when the scale of her defeat became clear. 

It was a swing of 30 percentage points to Sir Ed Davey’s party, with pollsters saying beforehand that anything over 25 would be disastrous for the Tories. It is the third comprehensive Lib Dem win in a by-election in a previously safe Tory seat in the past 18 months, after Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire.

Neil Parish – the Tory MP who had more than 60 per cent of the vote in 2019 – resigned after admitting he had watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons. 

Some 270 miles to the north east, Mr Johnson’s party had moments earlier ceded Wakefield to Labour after holding the Red Wall seat for just three years, with Simon Lightwood comfortably winning a vote called after the previous Tory MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was jailed for child sex offences.

Mr Lightwood overturned a majority of just under 3,500 to retake a seat that was solidly Labour between the 1930s and 2019. He took 13,166 votes to Tory Nadeem Ahmed’s 8,241 on a 52 per cent turnout. It gave him a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7 per cent from the Tories to Labour.

A Tory MP close to Mr Dowden told MailOnline that he had ‘done the right thing for the party’. ‘Somebody needed to leave the Cabinet,’ they said. The senior MP said the outgoing minister had recognised he could not ‘polish a t***’, adding: ‘I’m afraid we have got a turd of a government.’ 

Another Conservative, Roger Gale – a serial critic of the PM – said Mr Dowden ‘can no longer defend the indefensible’.   

In worrying signs for the Tories, the electoral blows were facilitated by an effective electoral pact between the opposition parties. Labour barely campaigned in Tiverton and gained so few votes it lost its deposit, and the same was true for the Lib Dems in Wakefield. 

Renowned expert Professor Michael Thrasher said on the basis of the outcomes the country was headed for a hung parliament at the next general election. 

Speaking after he was elected in Tiverton & Honiton, Mr Foord said: Tonight, the people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for Britain. They’ve sent a loud and clear message: It’s time for Boris Johnson to go. And go now.’

And in Wakefield Mr Lightwood told reporters Labour was ‘rebuilding the red wall’ and that the biggest issue on the doorstep throughout the campaign had been the cost of living crisis.

Tiverton and Honiton Lib Dem MP Richard Foord

Wakefield Labour MP Simon Lightwood

In seismic results in the early hours of this morning, the Conservatives lost two seats in West Yorkshire and Devon by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership. 

Oliver Dowden

In a letter hours after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, Oliver Dowden said he shared the 'distress' of activists about the run of bad results

In a letter hours after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, Oliver Dowden said he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results

Mr Johnson will not be around to field the political flack - as he is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe with his wife Carrie

Mr Johnson will not be around to field the political flack – as he is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe with his wife Carrie

Voters went to the polls in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton today, with party insiders privately warning the Tories were set to lose both.

His party is expected to win in Tiverton and Honiton, which was held by the Tories with a 24,000 majority just three years ago. On what is forecast to be a dark night for the PM, the party is also expected to lose Wakefield to Labour.

His party is expected to win in Tiverton and Honiton, which was held by the Tories with a 24,000 majority just three years ago. On what is forecast to be a dark night for the PM, the party is also expected to lose Wakefield to Labour.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey tweeted in the early hours that he was 'going to need a bigger hammer', a referenced to a stunt at the party's Chesham and Amersham victory last year that saw him demolish a 'blue wall' with a tiny orange tool.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey tweeted in the early hours that he was ‘going to need a bigger hammer’, a referenced to a stunt at the party’s Chesham and Amersham victory last year that saw him demolish a ‘blue wall’ with a tiny orange tool.

Oliver Dowden’s resignation letter 

Dear Prime Minister,

It is with great sadness that I must resign as chair of the Conservative Party with immediate effect.

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.

‘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.

‘It has been an honour to serve in your Cabinets as party chairman, Culture Secretary and minister for the Cabinet Office….  

‘Finally I want to emphasise that this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.

‘I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.’

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Dowden 

In his resignation letter to the PM, Mr Dowden said the 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,’ he wrote.

‘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.’

The MP ended his letter by saying: ‘I want to emphasise that this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.

‘I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.’

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey tweeted in the early hours that he was ‘going to need a bigger hammer’, a referenced to a stunt at the party’s Chesham and Amersham victory last year that saw him demolish a ‘blue wall’ with a tiny orange tool. 

The scale of the Lib Dem win in Devon will shock the Tories and shines a light on the level of popular discontent in the PM after months of scandals and economic reversals. 

But Mr Johnson will not be around to take flack from any political fallout – is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe with his wife Carrie. 

But there are fears the expected grim results at home could spark a renewed Conservative revolt against his leadership, weeks after he was forced to face a vote of confidence from his own MPs.

Senior Conservatives figures were last night blaming Jeremy Hunt and other Tory plotters for wrecking the campaigns by trying to unseat Mr Johnson with the vote of no confidence, which he won 211 to 148.

A new poll last night gave Labour an 11-point lead in the polls, up from six points a week previously. But the survey by Savanta ComRes was carried out before this week’s crippling rail strikes brought Britain to a halt. 

Mr Johnson faces the fallout from those strikes, as well as general unrest of the rising cost of living – inflation hit 9.1 per cent this week. 

He is also embroiled in a fight with human rights campaigners over his attempts to send migrants arriving in the UK to Rwanda.

Keir Starmer, reacting to the Wakefield win, said: ‘Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tories. 

‘This result is a clear judgement on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas. Britain deserves better.

‘Wakefield has voted Labour because we have the solutions for the challenges facing the British people. 

‘The Labour Party is back on the side of working people, winning seats where we lost before, and ready for government.’

Turnout in Wakefield was 39 per cent, while in the Devon seat it was 52 per cent. 

Both by-elections today were triggered by misconduct by the former Tory MPs.

The polls were  seen as a key test for Mr Johnson’s leadership. Wakefield, where the Conservatives were defending a majority of less than 3,500, has been seen as a lost cause for weeks.

A new poll last night gave Labour an 11-point lead in the polls. But the survey by Savanta ComRes was carried out before this week's crippling rail strikes brought Britain to a halt.

A new poll last night gave Labour an 11-point lead in the polls. But the survey by Savanta ComRes was carried out before this week’s crippling rail strikes brought Britain to a halt.

Senior Conservatives figures were last night blaming Jeremy Hunt and other Tory plotters for wrecking the campaigns by trying to unseat Mr Johnson with a vote of no confidence.

Senior Conservatives figures were last night blaming Jeremy Hunt and other Tory plotters for wrecking the campaigns by trying to unseat Mr Johnson with a vote of no confidence.

But prior to the vote in Tiverton and Honiton the Tories were said to be ‘neck and neck’ with the Lib-Dems, a prediction that failed to become fact.

A senior Tory source said the actions of the Tory rebels had exacerbated what was already a difficult contest in Devon.

‘Tiverton and Honiton was always going to be a tough battle because we are mid-term and there is residual anger over Partygate where the media have been having a field day. People see it as a way to punish us without a change of Government,’ the source said.

‘But the overlay of division has been massively unhelpful. It was raised on the doorstep time and again – people were saying if even his own MPs won’t vote for him, why should we?

‘The really damaging thing is that it came just as the postal ballots were being sent out, where we would normally hope for a decent showing.

‘If we have lost the postals then we have lost. It’s all incredibly unhelpful and totally self-inflicted.’ 

A poll by Survation for the 38 Degrees website two weeks ago - around the time of the vote of no confidence against Mr Johnson - put Labour on 56 per cent in the West Yorkshire seat, with the Tories on 33 per cent

A poll by Survation for the 38 Degrees website two weeks ago – around the time of the vote of no confidence against Mr Johnson – put Labour on 56 per cent in the West Yorkshire seat, with the Tories on 33 per cent

Boris Johnson has only made one visit to Devon to assist candidate Helen Hurford, a local councillor and beautician. They are pictured together on June 10

Boris Johnson has only made one visit to Devon to assist candidate Helen Hurford, a local councillor and beautician. They are pictured together on June 10

Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being a Labour stronghold since the 1930s, but Labour is now hoping to take it back with Simon Lightwood

Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being a Labour stronghold since the 1930s, but Labour is now hoping to take it back with Simon Lightwood

Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised eyebrows by arguing last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan's sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust GPs despite the crimes of mass murderer Harold Shipman.

Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised eyebrows by arguing last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan’s sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust GPs despite the crimes of mass murderer Harold Shipman.

In Wakefield, a former industrial area in West Yorkshire, ex-Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan stood down after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and jailed for 18 months.

Wakefield was one of the so-called Red Wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being a Labour stronghold since the 1930s, but Labour has battled to take it back.

Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed raised eyebrows by arguing last week that voters should still trust the party after Mr Khan’s sexual assault conviction, just as they still trust GPs despite the crimes of mass murderer Harold Shipman. 

In Devon’s Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, the Tory MP since 2010, resigned after admitting he had watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister urged voters to ‘stick up for British food and farming’ by supporting Tory Helen Hurford, a former head teacher turned beautician.

In a video shared on social media on Wednesday, Mr Johnson appeared alongside the candidate on a farm, saying the party was working to protect ‘our fantastic food and farming industry and ‘amazing agricultural sector’.

Dev

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