Tory MPs fear for Johnson after Labour takes Wakefield and Honiton

Tory MPs fear for Johnson after Labour takes Wakefield and Honiton

The Conservatives lost two key election results on the same night, with Labour taking Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats overturning a 24,000 plus majority to snatch Tiverton and Honiton, putting a lot of political pressure on Boris Johnson.

The result of Tiverton and Honiton, where Lib Dem candidate Richard Foord defeated Tories Helen Hurford by 6,144 votes to take a constituency that has been Conservative in its various forms for well over a century, will spook Tory MPs.

It is believed to be the biggest numerical majority ever overturned in a byelection, although there have been higher percentage swings in other seats.

A Labour win in Wakefield, where Simon Lightwood gained a 4,925 majority against Conservatives Nadeem Ahmed, was more expected, given Labour had consistently held the seat before the 2019 election, but it still shows traction for Keir Starmer in red wall seats.

The byelections were called after the MPs resigned in disgrace. Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down in Wakefield after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy, while Neil Parish left Tiverton and Honiton after watching pornography in the Commons.

Johnson is in Rwanda for the Commonwealth heads of government summit before he travels to the G 7 and Nato summits in Germany and Spain, keeping him out of the country for the next week. In his absence, the double loss could push Tory backbenchers to try to restart efforts to oust him.

After this month's confidence vote in which 148 Tory MPs tried to remove Johnson, with 211 supporting him, under party rules he is safe from a similar challenge for a year. These rules can be changed.

The result is another landmark for the Lib Dems, who took the similarly rural, Brexit-minded Tory seat of North Shropshire in a byelection in December, overturning a Tory majority of nearly 23,000 to win after former MP Owen Paterson quit over a lobbying scandal.

This follows a win for the Lib Dems in June of last year in Chesham and Amersham, a commuter-belt constituency in the north-west of London, which has sparked concerns among Tory MPs that dozens of similar blue wall seats could fall due to the widespread dislike of Johnson among more liberal-minded Conservative voters.

A sense of Johnson being no longer an electoral asset, coupled with the controversies over Downing Street parties that prompted the initial confidence vote, could result in Tory MPs voting against the prime minister, although a new challenge is viewed as unlikely before autumn.