Oliver Dowden resigns as Tory chair after Conservatives lose two by-elections

Oliver Dowden says someone ‘must take responsibility’ for defeats. Credit: PA

Oliver Dowden has resigned as Conservative chair after the party’s double by-election losses, saying someone “must take responsibility” for a recent run of poor results.

Mr Dowden, who was due to appear on the morning media round for the government on Friday, wrote a letter to Boris Johnson on Friday morning.

“Yesterday’s parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor result for our party,” Mr Dowden 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.”

The MP ended his letter by saying: “I want to emphasise that this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.

“I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.”

Mr Dowden's role as party chair was combined with a position as minister without portfolio, sitting in the cabinet. He had formerly been culture secretary under Mr Johnson.

Mr Dowden's resignation letter comes after the Liberal Democrats overturned a 24,000 Tory majority to win in Tiverton and Honiton, while Labour reclaimed Wakefield.

The contests, triggered by the resignation of disgraced Tories, offered voters the chance to give their verdict on the prime minister just weeks after 41% of his own MPs cast their ballots against him.

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A dramatic swing of almost 30% from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats saw Richard Foord secure a majority of 6,144 in Tiverton and Honiton.

The new Lib Dem MP used his acceptance speech to call for Mr Johnson “to go, and go now”, claiming his victory had “sent a shockwave through British politics”.

The Liberal Democrats' Richard Foord and his wife Kate. Credit: PA.

Mr Foord said: “The people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for Britain. They sent a loud and clear message – it’s time for Boris Johnson to go, and go now.”

He said that “every day Boris Johnson clings to office he brings further shame, chaos and neglect”.

A Tory source said it was a “disappointing but not unexpected result” and “we are confident we will regain this seat at the next general election”.

Labour candidate Simon Lightwood celebrates winning the Wakefield by-election. Credit: PA

In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7% from the Tories to Labour.

The previous Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan quit after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy – a crime for which he was jailed for 18 months.

Wakefield was one of the so-called red wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being Labour since the 1930s.

Mr Lightwood said: “The people of Wakefield have spoken on behalf of the British people.

“They have said, unreservedly: Boris Johnson, your contempt for this country is no longer tolerated.”