From 'catastrophic' to 'frustrating': Conservatives react to damaging double by-election defeats

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

Boris Johnson has vowed to keep on going in the face of immense pressure over his premiership following a double by-election defeat and the resignation of a cabinet minister.

The embattled PM attempted to start afresh after surviving a bruising vote of confidence brought by Tory MPs in June.

But Friday's electoral performances have reignited the debate over the viability of his leadership in the long-term.

Numerous Tory MPs are now openly expressing their concerns about being able to retain Conservative seats - something that could spell serious trouble for Mr Johnson, who is known as a vote winner.

How Conservatives have reacted to the by-election defeats:

Tory grandee Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said there is “no doubt” it would be “difficult to hold” his seat if there were a by-election in his constituency now. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the MP for the Cotswolds and treasurer of the 1922 committee said: “I think, factually, if I were to run under a bus today it would be difficult to hold my seat. There’s no doubt about that." “I feel very sorry for all our volunteers, and indeed my colleagues, and indeed myself, who work very hard in these by-elections, but were simply defeated by the situation that we find ourselves in at the moment.”

Earlier in June, Conservative MP Jesse Norman wrote to the PM saying he was withdrawing his support due to the partygate scandal and his government’s lack of “a sense of mission”.

Following the Conservative defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, Mr Norman reiterated his concerns over their impact on the electorate. He tweeted a quote from that letter on Friday morning, writing: “For you to prolong this charade not only insults the electorate, and the people who support, volunteer, represent and campaign for our party; it makes a decisive change of government at the next election much more likely."

Meanwhile, Tory peer Lord Barwell said the Tiverton and Honiton result was “catastrophic” for the Conservatives and that other seats in the south are “vulnerable”.

In Tiverton and Honiton, where former MP Neil Parish quit after he was found watching pornography in the Commons, the Lib Dems took 22,537 votes, beating the Tories by 6,144.

Lord Barwell told Sky News: “It’s one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. It’s a strongly Leave-supporting constituency. “So, for the Liberal Democrats to be winning there, and winning comfortably, it means that there’s a whole swathe of seats across the south of the country that are vulnerable.” Sir Robert Buckland said he has told Mr Johnson he needs to “look in the mirror and do better” as he told Sky News the Conservative Party is “about more than one man”.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

The former justice secretary admitted it was “frustrating” for those on the party’s sidelines to see a “lack of focus” from the government, but stopped short of calling for the PM's resignation.

“The Conservative Party is a broad coalition of people who have different views across the centre right in politics," he said.

"We need to reflect that far, far better – we’re not a sect, we’re not some iconoclastic tribe trying to overthrow the state.”

Friday's election 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.

Some Conservative MPs already on the record as calling for Mr Johnson to resign have subsequently expressed their support for Mr Dowden.

Angela Richardson, Tory MP for Guildford, for example, said he should not be the one to take the blame for the by-election defeats.

Also sharing a picture of Mr Dowden's resignation letter, Simon Hoare, who represents North Dorset and has been critical of Mr Johnson in the past, wrote: "An honourable letter from an honourable man. "

"Oliver Dowden is not to blame for these results. Since 2015 I have always been proud to call Oliver a friend. Never more so than today."