Berliner Tageszeitung - Johnson's Tories crushed in twin UK parliamentary by-elections

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Johnson's Tories crushed in twin UK parliamentary by-elections




Johnson's Tories crushed in twin UK parliamentary by-elections
Johnson's Tories crushed in twin UK parliamentary by-elections / Foto: © AFP

Beleaguered British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered two crushing parliamentary by-election defeats on Friday, including in a southwest English seat previously held by his ruling Conservatives for over a century.

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The Tories lost the Tiverton and Honiton seat to the centrist Liberal Democrats while the main opposition Labour party regained the Wakefield constituency in northern England, in stunning twin results set to pile new pressure on Johnson.

The votes were held Thursday after the two areas' former Tory MPs both resigned in disgrace in recent months.

Tiverton and Honiton's ex-lawmaker Neil Parish quit after admitting watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons, while Wakefield's Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

The by-elections also follow months of scandals and setbacks that have severely dented the popularity of Johnson and his party, and come just weeks after he narrowly survived an attempt by his own lawmakers to oust him as Tory leader and prime minister.

The Conservatives had been tipped to lose both by-elections and Johnson vowed Thursday -- while in Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit -- not to resign if that occurred.

But the manner of the defeats will undoubtedly renew calls for the embattled leader to stand down as the highly damaging "Partygate" scandal centred on lockdown-breaching gatherings in Downing Street continues to dog him.

- 'Wake-up call' -

The Liberal Democrats overturned a Tory majority of more than 24,000 to win Tiverton and Honiton -- which had voted Conservative in every general election since the 1880s -- by more than 6,000 votes, according to officials at a count centre in nearby town Crediton.

Meanwhile, in Wakefield near Leeds -- one of dozens of traditional Labour seats that Johnson took in 2019 on a promise to "get Brexit done" and address glaring regional economic inequalities -- the opposition party won by nearly 5,000 votes.

In speeches hailing their victories, both newly-elected MPs said Britain had lost faith in Johnson and urged him to quit.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is eyeing replacing Johnson as prime minister after the next general election due by 2024, said his party's victory in one of its former heartland seats showed it could win back power for the first time in more than a decade.

"Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tories," he said in a statement, following Labour's first by-election win since 2012.

"This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas."

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said his party has made "political history with this stunning win" and it was a "wake-up call for all those Conservative MPs propping up Boris Johnson".

"The people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for the country," he added.

"The public is sick of Boris Johnson's lies and law-breaking and it's time for Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and sack him."

- Sense of crisis -

Johnson has spent months fighting for his survival after a series of controversies including the "Partygate" saga led many Tories to question whether he should remain as leader.

Various opinion polls have shown the public thinks he lied about Covid lockdown-breaking events at Downing Street and should resign.

Even before the controversy erupted last December, the 58-year-old Brexit architect saw the loss of two once-safe seats in by-elections last year.

He then scored dismally in May's local elections.

Weeks later, dozens of Conservative MPs triggered a no-confidence vote in Johnson which saw more than 40 percent of them desert their embattled leader, leaving him severely weakened and struggling to reset his turbulent tenure.

The polls come as Britain is gripped by 40-year highs in inflation and a cost-of-living crisis that has seen prices soar for everyday essentials such as energy, petrol and food.

Strikes this week by railway workers -- including on election day Thursday -- were some of the biggest seen in Britain in decades and have added to the sense of crisis.

Johnson, who travels to Germany and then Spain for G7 and NATO summits after his current visit to Rwanda, is not due back in Britain until late next week.

T. Jones--BTZ