Hertsmere MP Dowden quits as Tory party chairman after double by-election loss

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Hertsmere MP Dowden quits as Tory party chairman after double by-election loss

Jewish activists, who campaigned for the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton, and for Labour in Wakefield, tell of their joy at their party's performance in two by-elections

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden at the Heritage Foundation
Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden at the Heritage Foundation

Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden has announced his resignation as chair of the Conservative Party after disastrous by-election losses in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton.

In his resignation letter, which came after the Tories lost two seats they had previously held, Dowden said someone “must take responsibility” for the bad run of results.

His decision to stand down came less than two months after the Tories lost Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster councils in the May local elections.

In another significant intervention former Tory leader Michael Howard called for Boris Johnson to resign.

The Jewish ex-PM told Radio 4’s Word At One show:”“The party and more importantly the country would be better off under new leadership. Members of the cabinet should very carefully consider their positions.

“It may be necessary for the executive of the 1922 Committee to meet and to decide to change the rules so another leadership could take place.”

Recognising what he said had been “a run of very poor results for our party”Dowden wrote:“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.”

The MP, who was co-chair of the Tories alongside fundraiser Ben Elliot, stressed “this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.”

In a direction criticism of the way the party is heading under its current leadership, Dowden’s letter  paid tribute to party members and volunteers, many of whom are Jewish in Hertsmere writing: “They are the backbone of our great party and deserve better than this.”

Dowden, who has previously stressed how he feels a “cultural affinity” with the Jewish community, had become chairman last September, but three months later his party slumped to defeat in North Shropshire on the back of the Owen Paterson scandal.

In May, the Tories lost Barnet Council for the first time to Labour, along with Wandsworth, and Westminster councils.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that the two results are “tough” but vowed to “keep going” – despite the losses dealing another blow to his authority.

Tory MPs are now expressing their concerns about being able to retain Conservative seats.Tory grandee Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said there is “no doubt” it would be “difficult to hold” his seat if there were a by-election in his constituency now.

Dowden himself remains relatively safe in his own Hertsmere seat, with a 21, 000, although anger against the Prime Minister’s leadership of the Tories has grown in the  Jewish community, even amongst previously loyal supporters.

Meanwhile, Jewish Liberal Democrat and Labour activists who had been out campaigning in Devon, and in West Yorkshire spoke of their joy as their respective party’s enjoyed by-election victories.

Nathan Boroda, a Bury Labour councillor who sits on the Board of Deputies, had spent several days with Labour activists in Wakefield drumming up support for his party ahead of Thursday’s poll.

Former Stoke on Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth and other Jewish Labour Movement activists had been amongst Labour’s campaigners in Wakefield.

Boroda told Jewish News on Friday:”The result in Wakefield is fantastic for Labour and a damning indictment of Boris Johnson’s failing government.

“One the doorsteps in my own ward of Bury and in Wakefield the cost of living crisis was people’s main priority.

“Following a brilliant set of local election results, in Bury, and Barnet, and on other councils, winning a Red Wall seat like Wakefield back is the icing on the cake.”

Toby Davis, a Jewish adviser for the Liberal Democrats in the whips office, had also campaigned for Ed Davey’s party ahead of the Devon result.

Mill Hill resident Davis said the Tiverton result underlined his party’s strength under its current leader, and urged the voters in the community to back the Lib Dems going forwards.

The by-elections, triggered by the resignation of disgraced Tories, offered voters the chance to give their verdict on the Prime Minister just weeks after 41% of his MPs cast their ballots against him.

In the rural Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, the Liberal Democrats overturned a 24,000 Tory majority to win, while Labour reclaimed Wakefield with a 12 per cent swing to Keir Starmer’s party.

Political observers said the result in Wakefield and last month’s result in councils like Barnet showed the impact of Starmer’s attempt to “detoxify” Labour after Jeremy Corbyn.

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