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London View: Britain's By-election Results Bypass Boris

News18 logo News18 25-06-2022 Sanjay Suri
London View: Britain's By-election Results Bypass Boris © Provided by News18 London View: Britain's By-election Results Bypass Boris

The results of two by-elections in Britain this week have resounded across the country as a devastating blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Just about the only one who appears not to have noticed — or is offering the appearance not to have noticed — is the PM himself.

By-elections were held in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency in the southwest in an area where the Conservatives have won continually for 130 years. They held the seat by a majority of 24,000, a massive margin in a British parliamentary seat. This time they lost it to the lowly Liberal Democrats who won by more than 6,000 votes.

The second by-election was in Wakefield in the north, a traditional Labour seat that the Johnson-led Conservatives seized in 2019. Labour won it back by close to 5,000 votes, a substantial margin.

Shaken and stirred

The two by-elections were seen as the big test for Boris Johnson after he won a no-confidence motion against him by a margin of 211 votes in his favour to 148 against. That level of opposition to him was far greater than foreseen, just as the margin of his party’s losses in the two by-elections turned out to be larger than even his opponents had anticipated. The writing on the political wall seems clear for all to read other than by Boris Johnson.

The “shameless” Prime Minister must go, said Richard Foord from the LibDems who beat the Conservatives in the biggest upset in a British by-election. But Boris has not heeded similar advice from his own. “In the name of God, go,” Johnson’s earlier Brexit Secretary said in Parliament at the peak of partygate.

It’s clear to all by now that Johnson will not go until he is forced out. It is becoming increasingly apparent that it’s a matter of time now before he is forced out. Under party rules, another vote of no-confidence cannot now be held against Boris Johnson for a year from the last one on June 7. But a rapidly growing number of MPs are now looking for ways of forcing him out in less than a year.

Going by the no-confidence vote, only another 32 Conservative MPs would now need to vote against Johnson to topple him. After the results this week, that number is certain to have been passed and by far. The Conservative losses in the two by-elections have sent shock waves through his little army of 359 MPs. If the party could lose Tiverton and Honiton, they could lose any and every seat. No Conservative MP feels safe in her or his constituency now, and they know they are shaking because of Boris Johnson.

Tractors and food bills

Boris Johnson is clinging on unsurprisingly. “We will keep going, addressing the concerns of the people till we get through this patch,” he said, speaking from the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda. He put the by-election losses down to the cost-of-living crisis. “There is more that we have got to do,” he said. That would worry rather than reassure many of his MPs.

He also suggests that the losses may have been the consequence of good old Conservative morality. The Tiverton and Honiton by-election came after the earlier sitting MP Neil Parish resigned on being caught watching porn inside the House of Commons chamber. The Wakefield seat fell vacant after earlier sitting Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. It’s the food bill, the fuel bills, sexual morality…anything but him. As most others see it, these rejections are coming only, or at least primarily because of the PM. It’s rare to see such a wide gulf between a British prime minister and the people.

Conservative co-chairman Oliver Dowden quit after the losses. “Someone must take responsibility,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “In these circumstances it would not be right for me to remain in office.” Johnson wrote back to say he understood Dowden’s disappointment over the election losses, suggesting that he thought Dowden was acknowledging his own failures rather than pointing to Johnson.

In his resignation letter spanning five paragraphs, Dowden did not write a word in defence of Boris Johnson.

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