Two defeats in partial elections — one in an area held for more than a century by the Conservatives — followed by the shock resignation of the chairman of his Conservative party have further eroded the authority of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who rules out resigning.
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Acknowledging “difficult” results, Boris Johnson promised on Friday to “listen” to voters, but was determined to “continue” his work as head of government.
“We have to recognize that we have to do more and we will do it, we will continue, addressing people’s concerns,” the prime minister said from Rwanda, where he is for a Commonwealth summit.
In a crushing setback for the ruling party, the centrist Liberal Democrats captured their stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton in south-west England, toppling the Conservative majority by more than 6,000 votes.
The Labor Party, the main opposition party, for its part recovered by nearly 5,000 votes the constituency of Wakefield, in the north of England, a traditionally Labor stronghold delighted by the Tories during their triumph in December 2019.
These humiliating defeats “are the latest in a series of very bad results for our party”, wrote the chairman of the British Conservative Party, Oliver Dowden in a letter to Boris Johnson announcing his resignation.
“We cannot continue as if nothing had happened”, “someone must take responsibility”, he continued, in this scathing missive for the head of government.
The votes took place on Thursday after two resignations by former Conservative MPs who had fallen out of favor in recent months.
The Wakefield poll was triggered by the resignation of Imran Khan, sentenced to 18 months in prison for the sexual assault of a teenager. In Tiverton and Honiton, 65-year-old MP Neil Parish tendered his resignation after admitting watching pornography on his phone in Parliament.
Two weeks after surviving a vote of no confidence in the wake of “partygate” – the affair of the drunken parties in Downing Street during the confinements – these results are likely to further accentuate the climate of distrust within the majority. .
In speeches hailing their victories, the two newly elected MPs said Britons no longer had confidence in Boris Johnson and urged him to step down.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer, who hopes to replace Mr Johnson as prime minister after the next general election due in 2024, said it was ‘a clear verdict on a Conservative party that is running out of energy and ideas”.
For the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, “the people of Tiverton and Honiton spoke for the country”.
“The public is fed up with Boris Johnson’s lies and law breaking and it’s time Tory MPs finally do the right thing and fire him.”
The Prime Minister has been fighting for months for his political survival after a series of controversies, in particular the “Partygate” – these celebrations in Downing Street during the confinements – which has undermined his legitimacy as leader of the party.
Even before controversy erupted last December, the 58-year-old Brexit architect lost two once secure seats in a by-election last year. He then scored dismally in local elections in May.
Weeks later, dozens of Tory MPs triggered a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson, and more than 40% of them turned their backs on their struggling leader.
The context is proving unfavorable for his government, with inflation at its highest for 40 years – exceeding 9% – at the origin of a massive strike by railway workers, and the recent failure of a controversial attempt to deport migrants to Rwanda.