BORIS Johnson has insisted he will “keep going” in the wake of a disastrous double byelection defeat for the Conservatives and the resignation of his party chairman.
The Prime Minister refused to shoulder responsibility in the aftermath of Labour comfortably regaining Wakefield in West Yorkshire and a gargantuan 30 per cent swing to the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton & Honiton in Devon.
However Mr Johnson’s future is again being discussed by Tory MPs, just weeks after he narrowly survived a no confidence vote.
The issue was given added impetus this morning when Oliver Dowden quit as Tory co-chairman saying the party cannot continue as if it is “business as usual”.
He said the defeats were “the latest in a run of very poor results for our party”.
In his resignation letter to the PM, he wrote bluntly: “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.”
Rather than express anmy support for Mr Johnson, Mr Dowden said “I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party”, a barely coded hint to others to oust the PM for the sake of the party as a whole.
Any potential plotters have the advantage of Mr Johnson being out of the country for seven days.
Speaking in the Rwandan capital at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, he said the results were “tough”, but not exceptional, and he would “listen” to them.
After thanking Mr Dowden for his service, he said: “Yes, it’s absolutely true that we’ve had some tough by-election results, and they’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise that voters are going through a tough time at the moment.
“I think that, as a Government, I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, and in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which is, I think, for most people the number one issue.
“But what I can say to people is we will get through this, we will get through it well, but clearly, we’ve got to listen to these results.”
Responding to the suggestion he was the problem for the Tories, Mr Johnson said voters were concerned about the economy.
He told his interviewer: “That may be your view. I think that what governments have also got to recognise is that, although I don’t want in any way to minimise the importance of what voters are saying, it is also true that in mid-term, governments, post-war, lose by-elections.
“I think if you look back to last May, the truly astonishing thing was we managed to win Hartlepool in very different circumstances.
“What we need to do now is reflect on where voters are, and I think what they’re basically feeling is that 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, we’re seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs, that’s hitting people.
“We’ve got to recognise that there is more that we’ve got to do and we certainly will; we will keep going, addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.”
Asked about people voting tactically against the Tories, Mr Johnson again suggested the defeats were part of a predictable pattern.
He said: “Look, as I say, you see historically in the last 50 years, more, you’ve seen governments being punished at the polls during mid-term, when people are particularly feeling economic pressures. And I totally get that.
I think that what we’ve got is the right way forward. And I think that, actually, we are able to support people because of the decisions that we took; I think coming out of Covid, we took a lot of the right decisions.
“But, plainly, we’ve got to keep looking after people, making sure that we have a robust, strongly performing economy.”