Boris Johnson Boris Johnson. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

Following Tory defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton, Boris Johnson’s already-numbered days just got fewer, writes Shabbir Lakha

Boris Johnson woke up in Rwanda this morning without a single plane of deported refugees and two Tory seats lighter. Thursday’s double by-election saw Labour retake Wakefield and the Lib Dems take Tiverton and Honiton in a blow for the Tories and an even bigger blow for Johnson himself.

As polls closed on Thursday evening, sensing the impending defeat, Boris Johnson ruled out as “crazy” the suggestion that he should resign if the Tories did in fact lose. It’s clear, however, that a growing section of his party think otherwise.

At 5:30am this morning, Oliver Dowden quit his position as Conservative Party co-chair. In his letter to Boris Johnson, he said, “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility…”

The treasurer of the 1922 Committee hinted that the previously rumoured threat that the rules could be changed to allow a new vote of confidence against the Prime Minister might be on the cards. The Committee is due for an election in mid-July, and opponents of Johnson appear to be organising to get themselves onto the body that could decide Johnson’s fate.

Typically, Boris Johnson remains oblivious to reality and maintains he isn’t going anywhere. But it’s been clear since the historically low margin by which he won the confidence vote earlier in the month, that his days are numbered. And the outcome of these by-elections has undoubtedly accelerated his demise.

Regardless of the official mechanisms within the Tory party to oust him, he now presides over a divided cabinet, and a party in which almost half (or likely more now) of the Parliamentary party and a growing number of local parties and activists want him to resign.

The question for us is not really one of predicting how long he has left, but how he is removed. It should be noted that for all the back-patting and self-congratulating by Labour and the Lib Dems for their victories, the by-elections make it clear that they have hardly won appeal with the electorate.

In Wakefield, Labour won with just 13,166 votes on an abysmally low 39.5% turnout. That’s 4,759 votes less than they got in 2019 when they lost the seat. The Tories’ 60% loss in votes didn’t go to Labour, just over 2,000 votes went to a now-Independent former Tory councillor and the rest didn’t turn out.

Similarly in Tiverton where the Lib Dems overturned a 24,000-vote majority with a 30% swing, turnout was down to 52.3% and Labour lost its deposit. The combined Labour-Lib Dem vote was little over 3,000 votes more than it was in 2019. So there was clearly a tactical vote from Labour and Green voters, but the Tories lost the seat because some 20,000 2019 Tory voters simply didn’t vote.

What this points to is the growing opposition to the Tories, but also the deep-seated disaffection with the electoral system and the lack of alternatives to the Tories.

With a soaring cost of living crisis, an obviously lying, corrupt and incompetent government, and no parliamentary opposition, people are fed up. Conversely, after two days of the national rail strike, Mick Lynch has now become a household name and polls show that a majority, or close to a majority, of people support the strikers.

The government and media’s attempts to demonise the rail unions appears to have spectacularly backfired. Of course there’s still a long way to go, and Boris Johnson’s desperation might make him only more determined to find a way to beat the rail workers. But all signs point to a growing confidence to fight – and a growing crisis for the Tories.

Interest in joining a union has spiked by 500% in the last week, more rail workers are balloting to join the strike, British Airways workers have voted to strike, posties, teachers, civil servants and more are balloting to strike.

More than waiting for the internal machinations of the Tory party or trying to organise tactical voting between two shades of beige, this is how we can get Boris Johnson and his rotten government out of office.

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Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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