The Liberal Democrats secured the biggest by-election victory in British history to snatch Tiverton and Honiton and plunge Boris Johnson’s leadership deeper into crisis.
On a balmy night in south Devon, their candidate Richard Foord, a former army major, wiped out a colossal majority of 24,239 to win a seat the Conservatives had held since its inception in 1997.
His victory will send shockwaves through the government and only increase the pressure on the Prime Minister from his own agitated backbenchers.
It is the biggest run ever canceled in a UK by-election. The record was held by Labour, which overthrew a Tory majority of 23,927 in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935.
The result also tops the Lib Dems’ previous best showing, which came last year when they claimed North Shropshire, which the Tories had held by 22,949.
Mr Foord ended up with 22,537 votes after a widespread tactical vote that saw Labor, who came second in the last election, lose their account.
In his victory speech, Mr Foord said the result would ‘send shock waves through British politics’.
To loud cheers, he said: “Tonight the people of Tiverton and Honiton spoke on behalf of Britain. They sent a loud and clear message: it’s time for Boris Johnson to go. And go now.
“Every day Boris Johnson clings to power, he brings more shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees.
“I also have a simple message for Tory MPs who support this failing Prime Minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.”
Conservative candidate Helen Hurford, whose constituency defense was blighted by the fallout from the partygate scandal, won 16,393 votes.
Turnout was 52.3% – high for a by-election – with 42,707 ballots cast.
He was called out when incumbent Tory MP Neil Parish resigned after admitting watching pornography on his phone in the Commons.
The count took place in nearby Crediton because Tiverton School, the only facility in the constituency large enough to house it, was being used for exams.
As more ballot boxes poured in, Lib Dem officials who started the night by describing the race as “neck to neck” burst into smiles.
At 2:22 a.m., party leader Sir Ed Davey effectively announced the result. “Looks like I’m gonna need a bigger hammer,” he tweeted.
The post referred to a photoshoot after Chesham and Amersham’s by-election victory last year which saw him knock down a blue brick wall.
An army of about 50 counters sifted through ballot papers piled up in a gym with walls cruelly painted in the sky blue Tory logo.
And it was the Tories who were beaten hard as the count unfolded under posters advertising local taekwondo and kickboxing classes.
Defeat puts more pressure on PM
The loss of Tiverton and Honiton will spark further unease among Tory MPs across the South West and beyond who fear losing their seats in the next election.
It also marks another stunning by-election victory for the Lib Dems, who have already overturned large majorities in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham.
There are only 40 constituencies in the whole country where the Tories have a larger majority than they possessed in the rural Devon seat.
And there are 248 Tory MPs sitting on smaller tracks above the Lib Dems, including Cabinet ministers like Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Leveling Secretary Michael Gove.
Tiverton and Honiton voted to leave the EU by 58% to 42%, and the result will dampen suggestions that the party can get back to winning ways by returning to the Brexit battleground.
Mr Johnson was almost entirely absent during the campaign, making just one low-key visit during which he did not meet any voters, and he did not appear on local party leaflets.
Ahead of the contest, the prime minister was already downplaying expectations that the Tories would retain the seat and dismissing questions that he should step down as ‘crazy’.
“Governing parties don’t usually win by-elections, especially not mid-term. I’m very hopeful, but you know, here it is. That’s just the reality,” he said on Thursday. .
Ms Hurford said ahead of the vote the fallout from partygate and the manner of Mr Parish’s resignation had made campaigning for the seat an uphill battle.
The last time a government lost two by-elections on the same night was over 30 years ago when Sir John Major was Prime Minister.
Wakefield win points to holes in Tory ‘red wall’
In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood won 13,166 votes to beat Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed, who won 8,421 votes.
Mr Lightwood’s victory signals potential Tory vulnerability in the 45 “red wall” constituencies that turned blue for the first time in a generation in 2019.
Labor hopes the victory is a sign they can win back the loyalty of northern and working-class Britons who left the party in the last general election.
The victory is also likely to lead to fresh questions about whether Boris Johnson will ever be able to regain the public’s trust after the partygate scandal.