Boris Johnson’s Conservatives suffered a historic double defeat on Friday morning as voters turned against them in both the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections.
The Liberal Democrats swept to victory in Devon, as Richard Foord overcame a Tory majority of 24,239 votes – the largest ever overturned at a by-election.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said it was the “biggest by-election victory our country has ever seen”, adding that the result should be a “wake-up call” to Tory MPs about Mr Johnson’s leadership.
Labour’s Simon Robert Lightwood won in Wakefield after winning the west Yorkshire seat by almost 5,000 votes, overturning a smaller Conservative lead of 3,358 votes.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the result shows that the country has “lost confidence in the Tories” and showed his party was “ready for government”.
The double defeats will raise further questions for prime minister, who insisted on Thursday that it would be “crazy” to step down even if he lost both by-elections.
Mr Foord won a majority of over 6,000 as he became the first non-Tory MP in Tiverton and Honiton since the seat was created back in 1997.
The 30,000 swing in Devon represents the largest majority, in raw votes not percentage swing, ever overturned at a by-election, defeating a previous record set in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935.
Mr Foord used his victory speech to call on Mr Johnson to “go and go now”, saying the result showed that voters think “enough is enough”.
The former Army major added: “Ours is a great country and there’s no greater part of it than Devon. But everyday Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect.”
Throughout the night, Lib Dems in Tiverton were confident that they had secured a big swing from the Tories. Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine MP told The Independent that the Tories were “haemorrhaging votes”.
However, the sheer scale of the historic victory only became clear early on Friday morning when Labour sources started to hint that their vote had collapsed – suggesting many people had voted tactically.
As vote counting got under way, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey sent out an optimistic Tweet hinting at the collapse of the so-called blue wall. “Looks like I’m going to need a bigger hammer,” he wrote at 2:22am.
Then at 2:52am the Lib Dems called the election in their favour. In a bullish statement, a spokesperson said that they were looking at a “clear win” which would deliver a “devastating blow” to Tory MPs”
The result in Wakefield was also a significant win for Starmer and Labour, who have not gained a seat in a by-election since Corby in 2012.
In his victory speech in Wakefield, Mr Lightwood said the result showed Labour was “rebuilding the red wall”, adding: “The next Labour government has been born in this room tonight.”
Naomi Smith, chief executive of the Best for Britain, campaigning for anti-Conservative electoral pact, said the majorities at both by-elections “could not have been overturned without tactical voting and an unofficial electoral pact between the opposition parties”.
Urging Starmer and Davey to collaborate, she added: “Labour and the Lib Dems mustn’t rest on their laurels, repeating this success will be much more difficult in a general election. Our polling proves they will need to collaborate to defeat the government.”
The Lib Dem win adds to a streak of successes, including a win against the Tories in Chesham and Amersham last June and North Shropshire in December.
Both seats came up for re-election after their respective Tory MPs resigned in disgrace. In Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down after being convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
In Tiverton, Neil Parish resigned after admitting to watching porn in the House of Commons.
The turnout for the by-election in Tiverton and Honiton was 52.3 percent, the local authority said – significantly higher than Wakefield where the turnout was 39.09 percent.