The Tory party has been warned it is “sleepwalking to a defeat at the next election” unless it dumps Boris Johnson after two disastrous by-election defeats.
Conservative peer Gavin Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff in Downing Street, urged other cabinet members to follow the lead of Oliver Dowden who resigned as party chairman in the wake of losses to Labour in Wakefield and a massive defeat in Tiverton and Honiton to the Lib Dems.
Johnson loyalist Dominic Raab attempted to rally support for the Prime Minister who faces a backlash from Tory MPs while he is abroad.
Speaking from Rwanda, where he is at a Commonwealth conference, Johnson said that he will “listen” to voters but vowed to “keep going”.
Raab described the Conservative party losses in the by-elections being the result of a “perfect storm”.
Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, he said: “My view is that the by-elections, both of them, were the result of the perfect storm of very difficult local scenarios, given the situations of the previously sitting Conservative MPs, plus the national headwinds, first of all, inevitably, for a mid-term government, but also, frankly, the distractions that we’ve had.
“I think the Prime Minister put it well: we need to listen very carefully, we need to take that feedback.
“I think with Tiverton, the most striking thing is how many of our supporters didn’t come out. We need to spend the next two years absolutely relentlessly focused on delivering our plan, without those distractions and with a real calm focus on delivering.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel also expressed her backing for the Prime Minister.
She said it is “important and right” the Conservatives have a “moment of reflection” following the by-election results.
The Home Secretary told LBC: “It’s right that we listen to the voters from both of those constituencies, it’s right that we carry on with our service to them, but also recognise the issues that they themselves are raising and have raised on the doorstep, I went to both by-elections too, and we get on with the job.”
But former Conservative MP and minister Rory Stewart said Oliver Dowden’s resignation “feels like the beginning of the end” for Boris Johnson and veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said Johnson had “trashed” the reputation of the Conservative Party.
He said the PM was choosing to “hang onto the door handle at No 10” but “it can’t go on forever and it certainly won’t go on until the next general election”.
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