Almost 4000 miles away the UK Prime Minister consoled himself by taking to a swimming pool in the capital Kigali after learning of the news that his political party back home had suffered a gruesome defeat in parliamentary by-elections.
According to British Press, Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party has lost two key parliamentary by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton.
The votes, at opposite ends of England, had been viewed as a litmus test of Johnson’s standing after a string of scandals — including parties held at Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns — and a spiraling cost-of-living crisis.
The double defeats prompted the immediate resignation of Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden, whose resignation letter said the party’s supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events” and that “someone must take responsibility.”
Boris Johnson said he would ‘listen’ after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, but tried to play down the huge blows as a difficult ‘patch’ for the government.
However, Mr Johnson – who is more than 4,000 miles away at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda – is facing a fresh threat to his position after Oliver Dowden walked out saying he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results.
It has emerged that the premier went swimming at his hotel in Kigali immediately after learning of the defeats, with sources admitting he was then ‘blindsided’ by the outgoing minister’s decision.
Mr Dowden delivered what appeared to be a coded attack on the PM, saying the party cannot continue with ‘business as usual’. Rather than stating his continuing loyalty to the premier in his resignation letter, Mr Dowden said he ‘remains loyal to the Conservative Party.
The main opposition Labour Party regained its former stronghold seat of Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, from Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party. Labour candidate Simon Lightwood defeated Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed by 4,925 votes as the Tories saw a 17.3-point slide in their vote share from the 2019 General Election.
By contrast, the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, in Devon, has historically been viewed as a “safe” seat for the Conservatives, with the party winning 60% of the vote in 2019.
But the centrist Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party in England, stormed to victory on Thursday to overturn a Conservative majority of more than 24,000 votes. Lib Dem candidate Richard Frood defeated Conservative candidate Helen Hurford by more than 6,000 votes, registering a swing of almost 30%, one of the biggest by-election swings in British history.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Conservative MP Neil Parish, who admitted to watching pornography in Parliament.