Oliver Dowden has resigned as Conservative chair after the party’s disastrous double byelection losses in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton, saying someone “must take responsibility” for a recent run of poor results.
The Tory MP’s resignation letter, also sent in a tweet, comes after the party lost two seats it had held in a single night. Labour took Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats overturned a 24,000-plus majority to snatch Tiverton and Honiton.
“Yesterday’s parliamentary byelections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party,” Dowden wrote in a letter to Boris Johnson. “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.”
He added: “Finally, I want to emphasise that this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.”
Dowden’s role as party chair was combined with a position as minister without portfolio, sitting in the cabinet. He had formerly been culture secretary under Johnson. He was co-chair alongside Ben Elliot, who focuses primarily on fundraising.
In his letter he paid tribute to party members and volunteers, writing: “They are the backbone of our great party and deserve better than this.”
The MP for Hertsmere in Hertfordshire took over the role in September last year, shortly after the Tories suffered the major electoral shock of losing the previously safe commuter-belt constituency of Chesham and Amersham to the Liberal Democrats.
But under his tenure, in December last year the Lib Dems overturned a majority of nearly 23,000 to win the North Shropshire byelection, after the former incumbent, Owen Paterson, quit over a lobbying scandal.
In May, the party also performed notably badly in local elections, losing hundreds of councillors and a number of flagship councils, including Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet in London, the latter two for the first time since their creation in 1964.
While the letter stressed Dowden was taking responsibility for all this, his decision to step down places more implicit pressure on Johnson, who narrowly won a confidence vote among his own MPs earlier this month and could face a renewed challenge in the autumn.