Boris Johnson’s by-election losses will seep like poison slowly into the Tory bloodstream

Boris Johnson’s double by-election loss may well not trigger an immediate political reaction.

Too many Tory MPs had steeled themselves for disappointment this morning to all for immediate panic and there is no obvious mechanism those who want the PM gone can reach for.

That does not mean it is without big consequence, however. And what it tells us will seep like poison slowly into the Tory bloodstream.

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But first there will be the excuses.

Tory MPs began looking for fig leaves and people to blame even before the result was known.

CCHQ figures point the finger at the 148 rebels presenting a disunited front – effectively blaming Jeremy Hunt, Tom Tugendhat and the like.

There could well be an inquest into whether it was right to pressure former Tiverton MP Neil Parish to stand down.

Questions will be asked about how Imran Ahmad Khan became an MP.

No doubt a whole host of Tory MPs will repeat the mantra that the Labour margin of victory might have been bigger.

But the raw statistics are impossible to ignore.

Wakefield is the first by-election victory for Labour since 2012, a swing of more than 12%.

The Liberal Democrats’ sensational result in Tiverton and Honiton – an almost 30% swing away from the Tories – is the largest percentage loss for the Tories at any by-election ever, and one of the largest since the war.

It means no Tory seat can be assumed to be safe.

This is no predictor of what will happen at a general election, as Lib Dem resources would be far more thinly spread during a national vote.

But it shows that last year’s Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire results were not anomalies and voters in the safest of Tory seats can be persuaded to think again about supporting the Conservatives.

Perhaps more important – this is evidence of tactical voting.

Labour lost their deposit in Tiverton because, it would appear, so many switched to the Lib Dems to oust Johnson. This is not evidence of a pact, although it did not go unnoticed. The Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw appeared to encourage voters in Tiverton to support the Lib Dems.

It’s these two lessons that will provide most pause for thought for the Tories. Whether they will or can do anything about this remains to be seen.

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