Lib Dems tell Tories Johnson must go after Tiverton and Honiton win
The Liberal Democrats have celebrated a historic win in Tiverton and Honiton and told Tory MPs they face defeat in other seats across the UK if they do not force Boris Johnson out.
The Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, visited Devon on Friday to lead the festivities after his party overturned a majority of more than 24,000 in a seat the Tories have always held.
Davey said: “Boris Johnson has got to go. But until the next election, the only people who can show Boris Johnson the door are his own party.”
Addressing Tory MPs directly, he said: “If you continue to allow Boris Johnson to drift along with no plan for our country, the Liberal Democrats will come after you, seat by seat.”
Earlier at Crediton leisure centre, the Lib Dems were so confident that they called the result more than an hour before it was declared. They won 22,537 votes, with the Conservatives second on 16,393, a 30% swing. Labour, which came second at the 2019 general election, finished a distant third with 1,562 votes.
The victorious candidate, Richard Foord, a former army officer, said Johnson lacked the leadership qualities and sense of decency that the UK needed and deserved. He also said the result had sent a shockwave through British politics.
Foord said thousands of lifelong Tories had voted for the Lib Dems because they were appalled by Johnson’s lies, and thousands of Labour supporters had voted Lib Dem as the party with the best chance of beating the Tories. He told Johnson: “Your behaviour makes a mockery of leadership. You are unfit to lead. The only decent course of action is to resign.”
There were undignified scenes when the Tory candidate, Helen Hurford, arrived for the count but hid in a dance studio that had been set aside for media interviews, refusing to speak to reporters. After the declaration she left the hall immediately without making a speech.
The Guardian contacted all the Tory members of Mid Devon district council’s cabinet but only one, Colin Slade, gave a comment. “We are all devastated by the result; it was unexpected and uncalled for,” he said. He refused to speak about Johnson’s position.
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Neil Parish, whose resignation after watching pornography in the Commons triggered the byelection, said Johnson had to face reality. “The people in Tiverton and Honiton have spoken and they’ve spoken loudly,” he said. “What is becoming increasingly necessary is for the party, the MPs to consider what is the long-term position of the prime minister. It is for the prime minister to look at this very seriously. The time for blustering, I’m afraid, is over, we’ve got to really face reality now.”
The Lib Dem celebrations included a march through Tiverton and a stunt in which a bright blue door was set up next to the clocktower, daubed with the slogan “It’s time to show Boris the door”.
Davey insisted there had been no pact with Labour to beat the Conservatives. “There is no pact, no deal. The voters of Tiverton and Honiton knew if they wanted to get rid of the Conservative candidate, they had to vote Liberal Democrat.”
Dave McCobb, the Lib Dem director of field campaigns, said the party spoke to more than 20,000 people on the day of the poll and was persuading people right up until voting ended. He suggested the win could be repeated in other southern English counties such as Surrey and Berkshire, and in London.
Luke Taylor, the leader of the Lib Dem group on Mid Devon district council, said he had been overwhelmed by the scale of the campaign. “I’ve never seen so many people coming to help. People have come from Surrey, Yorkshire, Brecon, Scotland, even from abroad. I heard someone came from South Africa.”
He said the win would create a “snowball effect”, attracting more supporters and activists in the south-west, and the party would be targeting places such as Yeovil, Taunton, North Devon and Torbay next. “But I never thought we’d see Tiverton and Honiton turning yellow in my lifetime.”