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24th Jun 2022

Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden resigns after double by-election loss

Ava Evans

Breaking: the Tory party

Oliver Dowden has quit as Conservative party chairman after the party suffered two crushing double by-election losses, saying someone “must take responsibility” for the poor results.

Writing in a letter to the prime minister, Dowden said he shared the feelings of Tory supporters who were “distressed and disappointment by recent events” and the tories “cannot carry on with business as usual”.

It comes after the party lost two seats it had held in a single night, the first chance for voters to give their verdict on the prime minister just weeks after 41% of his own MPs voted no confidence in his leadership.

In Tiverton and Honiton the Liberal Democrats swept to victory, after candidate Richard Foord overcame a Tory majority of over 24,000 votes – a 30% swing.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said the spectacular loss of the Devon constituency, which had been held by the Tories since it was created 25 years ago, should be a “wake-up call” to Tory MPs about Johnson’s leadership.

Meanwhile in Wakefield, Labour’s Simon Lightwood reclaimed the west Yorkshire seat from the Conservatives, overturning a smaller lead of 3,358 votes.

The by-election had been triggered after a Tory MP was convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy.

In his letter to the prime minister, the now-former party chairman acknowledged the troubling times ahead for the Tories.

“Yesterday’s parliamentary byelections are the latest in a run of very poor result for our party,” he wrote.

“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.”

Responding to his resignation, Johnson said it had been a “pleasure” to work alongside Dowden and argued he had a “historic mandate” to unite the country despite the poor election results.

The double defeat will raise further questions over the stability of Boris Johnson’s premiership, who is currently in Rwanda for the Commonwealth summit.

Speaking on Thursday, Johnson insisted that it would be “crazy” to step down even if he lost both by-elections – arguing he still had the support of his party.

But on Friday morning, cracks began to show after Conservative MPs rallied behind their former chairman.

Writing in a tweet, the Tory MP for Guildford and Cranleigh described him as a “fantastic colleague” who is “most certainly not responsible for these results”.

North Dorset’s Simon Hoare, who sits as chairman Northern Ireland select committee, echoed Angela Richardson writing “Oliver Dowden is not to blame for these results. Since 2015 I have always been proud to call Oliver a friend. Never more so than today”.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Friday morning, Tory MP Sir Roger Gale reiterated sentiments posted online by his colleagues, arguing that Oliver Dowden resigned “because he can no longer defend the indefensible.”