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Boris Johnson Warned He's In "Last Orders Time" After Crushing North Shropshire Loss

4 min read

A senior Conservative MP has said Boris Johnson is on the cusp of being ousted as Prime Minister after the party's stunning defeat to the Liberal Democrats in the North Shropshire by-election.

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said Johnson was in "last orders time" and "one more strike, and he's out" after the Conservatives surrendered a 23,000 majority to lose what had been a safe Conservative constituency.

Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan took the rural seat in the West Midlands by 5,925 votes on a turnout of just over 38,000 (46.28%), it was announced in the early hours of Friday morning – a huge swing of 34%. 

MP Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, said the result in North Shropshire was a “watershed moment” that would make many Conservative MPs anxious about their own seats at the next election.

“Let's not forget, there are dozens of Conservative MPs with very slim majorities over their close Lib Dem rivals," she told PoliticsHome. 

"I get the sense Conservative MPs in the Blue Wall will be feel very nervous this morning."

Reacting to the defeat, the Prime Minister admitted to Sky News that it showed he needed to "get over" the message of what the government had been doing for the public "more effectively."

"What's been going wrong is that over last few weeks some things have been going very well," Johnson said.

"But what the people have been hearing is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn't about them, and isn't about the things that we can do to make life better."

The contest, triggered by the resignation of former Tory MP Owen Paterson after he was found to have breached lobbying rules, took place against a backdrop of several recent controversies involving Johnson, including revelations of Christmas parties in Downing Street last year during lockdown.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Gale said the result "has to be seen as a referendum on the Prime Minister's performance, and now he's in last orders time".

He said the historic defeat in North Shropshire was the second "strike" testing the party's patience with Johnson, the first being the House of Commons vote on Covid certification earlier this week which triggered a massive rebellion of Conservative MPs.

"One more strike, and he’s out," Gale added.

He warned that a leadership challenge to remove Johnson as Conservative party leader and Prime Minister could take place sooner rather than later.

"The Conservative party has a reputation for not taking prisoners. If the Prime Minister fails, the Prime Minister goes," the MP for North Thanet said.

A Tory MP in the region said the result was a hammerblow to the party, but one they were prepared for. "By-elections often deliver unexpected results but this one is disastrous," they told PoliticsHome.

"Admittedly it couldn't have been held at a worse time for us, but the high turnout and the scale of the defeat illustrate voters want to send a strong message to the Conservative party and the government."

Oliver Dowden, chairman of the Conservative party, admitted that the Tories had suffered a damaging defeat.

"Voters in North Shropshire are fed up and they gave us a kicking," he told Sky News.

"They wanted to send us a message. And I want to say as chairman of the Conservative Party, we've heard that loud and clear."

He added: "They want us to get on with the job and focus on the job.

"And our job as a government, particularly at a time of crisis like this, is to make sure we're focused on the core priorities, and number one is to getting on with delivering the booster programme."

However, Dowden sought to play down the significance of the result, claiming the by-election took place in "quite unique circumstances" and that Labour, who came third, also performed poorly.

In a separate interview with BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Dowden insisted that the defeat didn't indicate a "massive sea change" in British politics because you would have expected Labour "to be surging ahead and winning when in fact their vote sunk".

John Redwood, the Conservative MP for Wokingham, appeared to blame the result on government policies, like recent tax rises, rather than the scandals.

"Will the Chancellor now admit his high tax economic slowdown is wrong?," Redwood tweeted

"Will the Environment Secretary back British farming instead of trying to stop us growing our own food? Time to listen to Conservatives."

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