Can Boris Johnson recover from the by-election losses?

Boris Johnson has faced a double blow to his authority after the Tories lost two key by-elections on the same night. Credit: PA

Are the Tory losses of the Tiverton and Wakefield seats normal mid term blues that is recoverable or a more significant judgement on the leadership of Boris Johnson?

That is the life-or-death question being asked by Tory MPs.

One useful data point is the attached by polling expert Peter Kellner, who usefully plots the three huge swings to the Liberal Democrats and lesser swing to Labour that have seen the Conservatives lose four seats on Mr Johnson’s watch since last year.

The party’s chairman Oliver Dowden has delivered his seemingly crushing verdict in a resignation letter that says “we cannot carry on with business as usual” and says supporters and he is “distressed and disappointed by recent events”.

There is just a touch of Geoffrey Howe in Mr Dowden’s resignation.

He was the senior minister who was ultra loyal to Thatcher until he delivered a withering resignation speech in November 1990, from which she never recovered.

Party chairman Oliver Dowden was one of the “gang of three” up-and-coming ministers - with Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick - who wrote an influential letter to the Times supporting Mr Johnson’s campaign to be leader in June 2019.

It gave Mr Johnson momentum. All three joined his first cabinet and all three have been systematically alienated by him.

Mr Jenrick was sacked in an early reshuffle as housing minister for the apparent crime of always being too loyal to Mr Johnson.

Mr Dowden heard that No10 had been briefing he would be the fall guy if the by-elections were bad, so sensibly decided to quit on his own terms.

The prime minister, if astute, will now from Rwanda be doing what he can to retain the last of the troika, Sunak.

If the chancellor were to resign - and those close to him say that is not impossible - today’s crisis for Mr Johnson would be pretty close to catastrophe.

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