Less than three weeks after barely surviving a vote of no confidence, the leader is seeing his majority’s confidence in his ability to keep him in power eroded once again.
The loss of the constituencies of Tiverton and Honiton, in the south-west of England, and Wakefield, in the north, also caused the resignation of the loyal chairman of the Conservative Party, the first departure from the “cabinet” bringing together the main ministers since broke the “partygate” scandal, these watered parties in Downing Street during the confinements.
“I’m not going to pretend these are brilliant results, we have to listen, we have to learn,” he told a press conference from Kigali at the Commonwealth summit, promising to deploy “full energy” in the face of the cost of living crisis for the British.
After Rwanda, Boris Johnson must go to the G7 and NATO summits which will keep him away from London for another week.
In two constituencies with very different profiles, the (centrist) Liberal Democrats comfortably conquered their rural stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton while Labour, the main opposition party, reclaimed Wakefield, a town affected by deindustrialisation and a traditionally delighted Labor stronghold by the Tories at the end of 2019.
These humiliating defeats “are the latest in a series of very bad results for our party”, wrote Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden in his resignation letter.
“We cannot continue as if nothing had happened”, “someone must take responsibility”, continued Mr. Dowden, in a spade at the head of government. A disavowal coming from a minister without portfolio who was until then among the most loyal.
The votes took place on Thursday after two former Tory MPs resigned: one convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager, the other of watching pornography on his phone in Parliament.
These results are likely to further accentuate the climate of mistrust within the majority, in a context of growing social tensions caused by inflation (more than 9%).
Former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard said Boris Johnson should step down. “The party, and more importantly the country, would be better off under new leadership,” he told the BBC.
But according to Professor Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Boris Johnson “will hang on”. “For him, staying in his post is the main priority, rather than protecting the Conservative Party in the long term,” he told AFP.
– No obvious successor –
The two newly elected MPs have also urged him to resign, saying the British no longer trust him.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer, who hopes to replace Mr Johnson as prime minister after the next general elections due in 2024, said the Tories were “out of touch, out of ideas”, adding that “if they had the slightest decency, they would leave”.
The Prime Minister has been struggling for months for his political survival after a series of controversies. Even before ‘partygate’ broke out last December, the 58-year-old Brexit architect lost two once-secure seats in a by-election last year. He then scored dismally in local elections in May.
Weeks later, dozens of Tory MPs triggered a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson, and more than 40% of them turned their backs on their struggling leader.
The context is not favorable to him, with inflation at its highest for 40 years at the origin of a massive strike by railway workers, and the recent failure of a controversial attempt to deport migrants to Rwanda.
But the Conservatives lack an obvious successor to stand out, which makes part of the majority hesitate to oust its leader, long loved by the public but now very unpopular.