World · June 24, 2022

Boris Johnson under pressure: the British Conservative Party loses 2 parliamentary seats

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a double hit when voters rejected his Conservative party in two special elections dominated by questions about his leadership and ethics.

The party chairman resigned after the results early Friday, saying the party “cannot continue business as usual.”

The centrist Liberal Democrats overturned a large conservative majority to win the rural seat of Tiverton and Honiton in southwestern England, while the main opposition Labor party claimed Wakefield in northern England from Johnson’s Tories.

In this photo published by the UK Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London on Wednesday 18 May 2022.

In this photo published by the UK Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London on Wednesday 18 May 2022.
(Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament via AP)

The contests, triggered by the resignation of conservative lawmakers struck by sex scandals, offered voters the chance to pronounce their verdict on the prime minister just weeks after 41% of his own MPs voted to oust him.

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“The people of Tiverton and Honiton spoke on behalf of Britain,” said the area’s newly elected Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord. “They sent a loud and clear message: it’s time for Boris Johnson to go and go now.”

Defeat in both districts would have been a setback for the prime minister’s party. Losing both increases nervousness among restless conservatives who already worry the exuberant but erratic and divisive Johnson is no longer an electoral asset.

Party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, saying “our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events and I share their feelings.”

“We can’t continue with business as usual,” he said. “Someone has to take responsibility and I have concluded that, under these circumstances, it would not be fair for me to remain in office.”

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In this photo provided by the UK Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as members of the opposition party's gesture, during the prime minister's questions in the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday 12 January 2022.

In this photo provided by the UK Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as members of the opposition party’s gesture, during the prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday 12 January 2022.
(UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor via AP)

“I will remain, as always, loyal to the Conservative Party,” he said, without offering Johnson’s approval.

The prime minister was 4,000 miles away at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda when the results were announced.

He told reporters Thursday that he would not resign if the Conservatives lost both elections, responding to the suggestion with, “Are you crazy?”

“The ruling parties generally don’t win in elections, particularly not in the mid-term,” he said. “This is just reality.”

Election tests come as Britain faces the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, with Russia’s war in Ukraine cutting energy and food supplies at a time of growing consumer demand as the coronavirus pandemic moves away.

Johnson won a large majority in the 2019 general election by keeping traditional conservative voters – affluent, older and concentrated in southern England – and winning new ones in poorer, post-industrial northern towns, where many residents felt neglected by governments. for decades.

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Thursday’s elections were rehearsal on both fronts. Rural areas of Tiverton and Honiton have voted conservative for generations, while Wakefield is a northern district that the Tories won in 2019 from Labor.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech on Russia's attack on Ukraine in Downing Street, London on Thursday, February 24, 2022.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech on Russia’s attack on Ukraine in Downing Street, London on Thursday, February 24, 2022.
(Jeff Mitchell / Pool Photo via AP)

Labor’s widely anticipated victory in Wakefield – whose former Conservative lawmaker resigned after being convicted of sexual assault – is a boost for a party that has been out of office nationwide since 2010.

Labor leader Keir Starmer said it showed that the party “has returned to the side of the workers, has won seats where we had lost before and is ready for government.”

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Pollsters had said the race for Tiverton and Honiton was tight, but the Liberal Democrats overturned a conservative majority of 24,000 votes to win a majority of over 6,000 votes. The election was called when the district’s Conservative lawmaker resigned after he was caught looking at pornography in the House of Commons.

Despite the losses, Johnson holds a large majority in Parliament. But his already shaky authority among his own legislators has further weakened.

Ethics allegations have struck the prime minister for months, culminating in a scandal over the holidays held in government buildings during Britain’s coronavirus lockdown.

Johnson was one of 83 people fined by police for attending parties, making him the first prime minister to break the law while in office. A public official report on the “partygate” scandal said Johnson must take responsibility for the “leadership and judgment failures” that have created a culture of rule-breaking in government.

He survived a no-confidence vote from his own party this month, but remained weakened after 41% of Conservative lawmakers voted to remove him.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend the prime minister's weekly questions session in London on Wednesday 12 January 2022. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a wave of public and political outrage over allegations that he and His staff violated coronavirus lockdown rules by throwing a garden party in 2020 while Brits were legally prohibited from meeting with more than one person outside their families.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend the prime minister’s weekly questions session in London on Wednesday 12 January 2022. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a wave of public and political outrage over allegations that he and His staff violated coronavirus lockdown rules by throwing a garden party in 2020 while Brits were legally prohibited from meeting with more than one person outside their families.
(AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Under party rules, Johnson cannot face another such vote for a year, but Friday’s losses will increase the pressure to change it and there is a growing possibility of another rebellion in the coming months.

Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, Johnson’s longtime critic, reiterated his calls for the prime minister to step down.

“The soul of our party is at stake,” he said.