Voters can 'beat me up' but I'll push on, PM says amid two Tory by-election losses

The Tory party suffered a double blow as voters rejected the Conservatives in two crunch by-elections, as Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Boris Johnson has vowed to "keep going" despite his premiership being seriously undermined by disastrous double election losses which triggered the resignation of a cabinet minister.

The Liberal Democrats overturned a huge 24,000 Tory majority in Tiverton and Honiton, Devon, their third by-election victory over the Conservatives in a year.

Labour reclaimed the so-called "red-wall" seat of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, which it lost at the 2019 general election.

The results prompted the resignation of Oliver Dowden as Conservative chair, as he said someone “must take responsibility” for the recent run of poor electoral performances.

The PM was reportedly told of Mr Dowden's resignation while he was in a hotel swimming pool in Kigali, Rwanda, after going for a swim.

After the results were announced this morning, the PM said: “There will still be some tough times ahead, no doubt people will continue to beat me up and say this or that to attack me.

“That’s fine, that’s quite right, that is the job of politicians."

He said that he will listen to voters but "keep going". People want a government focused on their concerns, as opposed to “political consequences in Westminster”, the PM added.

As some Conservative MPs call for the PMs resignation following a double defeat in by-elections, ITV News' Daniel Hewitt asked the prime minister what his biggest asset is given he couldn't secure Tory wins in either Tiverton or Wakefield

Speaking at a press conference in Kigali, he said: “I think that what people want is a government that focuses 100% on their concerns, and not on political consequences in Westminster.

“And I’ve absolutely no doubt that this is a government that has not only achieved remarkable things, done some very great things, is going to continue to do some great things for the people of this country.

“We’re going through a tough time right now. We have inflationary pressures that I’ve talked about. I understand people’s feelings, but we’re going to get through them."

Mr Johnson did not directly address questions about him being personally to blame for the poor results , though he acknowledged that people are facing huge pressures around the cost-of-living crisis.

Boris Johnson said the government needs to reflect on what voters are saying

"I think what they're basically feeling is we came through Covid well, we took a lot of the right decisions there, but we're now facing pressures on the cost of living," he added.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the Wakefield result showed the country has lost confidence in the Tories. “This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas. Britain deserves better,” he said, adding that his party is ready for government.

Sir Keir Starmer meets with new Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood in Ossett Market. Credit: PA

Richard Foord, the new Lib Dem MP for Tiverton and Honiton, used his acceptance speech to call for Mr Johnson “to go, and go now”.

The former army major claimed his victory had “sent a shockwave through British politics”.

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

It was the sixth biggest swing against a government since 1945 in by-elections where both the seat and incumbent changed hands.

Wakefield changed colours in just a few years and pressure will be on Boris Johnson to stop that happening elsewhere – as Political Reporter Shehab Khan reports

In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7% from the Conservatives to Labour, in a sign that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is gaining traction in “red wall” seats.

It was one of the seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being Labour since the 1930s.

Mr Lightwood said the people of the west Yorkshire constituency spoke on behalf of the wider British public. “They have said, unreservedly: Boris Johnson, your contempt for this country is no longer tolerated,” the newly-elected MP declared following his victory.

Simon Lightwood said that Labour was 'rebuilding the red wall'

Why were the by-elections called?

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.

Neil Parish, the previous Tiverton and Honiton MP, resigned in disgrace after watching pornography in the House of Commons.

The by-election votes were viewed as a test of the prime minister's personal likeability and an indication to Conservative backbenchers whether their leader is still a vote winner.

Earlier this month, Mr Johnson won a confidence vote called by Tory MPs after controversies over lockdown-breaking Downing Street parties, with 148 MPs seeking to remove him from office.

Political analysis from ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana

A senior Tory source close to the campaigns told Anushka Asthana that they had been bracing for a significant defeat in Tiverton and Honiton for some time.

The Liberal Democrats had around 400 activists campaigning in the seat on Wednesday.

Frustrations over poor dentistry services in the NHS, the neglected state of Tiverton High School and partygate were issues that dominated on the doorstep.

Labour poured lots of resources into Wakefield, with the shadow cabinet team flooding the constituency.

Anushka Asthana believes so-called red wall Tories - elected in the 2019 general election - will be spooked by the result.

Some Tories are now pointing to the scandalous departures of their two MPs as reasons why voters turned against them in the by-elections.

To what extent are the results of the two by-elections caused by Boris Johnson? ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports from Tiverton.

The prime minister has tried to draw a line under the politically bruising confidence vote, but his authority faces being undermined further by these historic defeats.

Mr Johnson, who is at a Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Rwanda, previously suggested that it would be “crazy” for him to quit if the party lost the two seats.

He added that mid-term by-elections were “never necessarily easy for any government”.

The prime minister is expected to be out of the country for several days.

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