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Why Oliver Dowden’s resignation matters

Why Oliver Dowden's resignation matters
Oliver Dowden (Photo: Getty)
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Boris Johnson has been clear that he will not resign in the face of by-election losses. But his party chairman just has done, saying someone needs to take responsibility for losses in both and Tiverton & Honiton.

Tory chairman Oliver Dowden announced he is quitting as ‘we cannot carry on with business as usual’. In his resignation letter, he says ‘our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events and I share their feelings’. Dowden does not offer an endorsement of the Prime Minister – instead saying he remains loyal to the Conservative party.

Had Dowden not quit, he would have come under criticism over whether Conservative Campaign Headquarters had flunked the campaign. But while there have been some grumblings over the operation, no Tory MPs really blame the defeats on a lack of party organisation. Up until now, the cabinet backing Johnson has played a significant role in shoring up his position. Dowden, too, was a key backer of Johnson – writing a joint op-ed during the Tory leadership contest along with Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick in which they endorsed Johnson. It was credited with bringing more MPs on side. "We need to be honest," they wrote. "We are in deep peril. Not difficulty. Not a bump in the road. The Conservative Party is facing an existential threat."

Dowden's resignation letter suggests he believes the same is true now. There is no personal endorsement of the Prime Minister in his letter – instead it seems to imply the opposite.

Should more ministers follow and resign, it will have a destabilising effect. It also shows why the more organised rebels wanted to wait until after the by-elections to trigger a no-confidence vote.

Tune in to this special episode of Spectator TV discussing the by-election with Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Cindy Yu: