British Prime Minister Johnson suffers midterm election battle

AFP

Johnson’s Tories crushed in double UK parliamentary by-elections

Beleaguered British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered two crushing defeats in by-elections to parliament on Friday, including a seat previously occupied by his ruling Conservatives for more than a century, prompting the party leader to resign. In a stunning turnaround, the Tories saw their December 2019 general election majority of more than 24,000 votes destroyed by the centrist Liberal Democrats in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency. At the same time, the main Labor opposition regained the Westminster seat of Wakefield, in the north of England, another sign of revival after the party’s worst election performance in decades two and a half years ago. The disastrous consequences for the Conservatives are expected to put new pressure on the embattled Johnson as the highly damaging ‘Partygate’ scandal, which has seen lockdown-breaking gatherings in Downing Street continue to haunt him and his party. The latest in a string of electoral defeats for the Tories over the past year led to the immediate resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden. “Our supporters are saddened and disappointed by the recent events, and I share their feelings,” Johnson’s main ally wrote in a letter of resignation to the conservative leader. “We cannot continue as normal. Someone has to take responsibility and I have concluded that under these circumstances it would not be right for me to remain in office.” But Johnson, who was in Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit, insisted he would not resign. “Clearly we have to listen to these results,” he told the British broadcasters who accompanied him. “We will go ahead and address people’s concerns,” Johnson added. – ‘Wake-up call’ – Votes were held on Thursday after the two areas’ former Tory MPs have both resigned in disgrace in recent months. Neil Parish, the ex-legislator of Tiverton and Honiton, resigned after admitting to watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons, while Imran Ahmad Khan of Wakefield was jailed for sexually abusing a teenage boy. The Liberal Democrats won Tiverton and Honiton — a proportion of whom have voted Conservative in every general election since the 1880s — by more than 6,000 votes on a 30 percent swing. The party, which has historically performed well in the Southwest, appeared to benefit from tactical voting, with Labor’s share falling nearly 16 percent. Meanwhile, the opposition party in Wakefield — one of dozens of traditional Labor seats Johnson took in 2019 with a pledge to “get Brexit done” and address glaring regional economic inequalities — won by nearly 5,000 votes. During a visit to the constituency early Friday, Labor leader Keir Starmer said his party’s victory in one of the former seats domestically showed it was “on track” to return to power for the first time in more than a decade. to win in the next general election in 2024. “What a judgment this is about the Tories and Boris Johnson…without feeling, without ideas,” he told reporters there. Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said his party’s victory in the Southwest was a “wake-up call for all those Conservative MPs who support Boris Johnson”. – Sense of crisis – Johnson has been fighting for his survival for months after several controversies. Polls have shown most people think he lied about Covid lockdown events in Downing Street and that he should resign. Even before the controversy erupted last December, the 58-year-old Brexit architect oversaw the loss of two once-safe seats in by-elections last year. He then scored dismal in the local elections in May. Weeks later, dozens of Conservative MPs led a no-confidence vote, with more than 40 percent of them leaving Johnson, leaving him severely weakened and struggling to restore his turbulent tenure. Meanwhile, Britain is gripped by 40 years of high inflation and a crisis in the cost of living that has sent prices soaring for basic necessities such as energy, petrol and food. This week’s strikes by railway workers were among the largest in Britain in decades and have heightened the sense of crisis. Johnson, who travels to Germany and then Spain for G7 and NATO summits after his current visit to Rwanda, won’t be back in Britain until late next week. yy/jv

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