The Conservatives' huge defeat in North Shropshire means the end of Boris Johnson's premiership is now in sight
Boris Johnson's spell over his party has been broken. His exit as PM is now only a matter of time.
The North Shropshire by-election could not be any worse for Boris Johnson.
Coming after an already dire few weeks for his premiership, the 34% swing to the Liberal Democrats, in what was previously an ultra safe Leave-voting Conservative seat, will now pose an existential threat to his leadership.
The Tories’ share of the vote fell by half with the Lib Dems storming to their second stunning by-election result within months.
Lib Dem canvassers reported to me that voters had expressed a new and deep personal distaste for Johnson following his involvement in the “partygate” scandal.
This collapse in Johnson’s popularity, combined with the apparent spectacular revival of the Lib Dems, will now hand the prime minister’s Conservative critics everything they need to get rid of him.
Johnson’s downfall may not come immediately. Conservative MPs have just departed for the Christmas recess and he still has a chunk of goodwill left from his landslide election victory in 2019.
However, that stock of goodwill is rapidly running out and will likely not survive another few weeks like the few we have just had.
Conservative MPs who I spoke to last week were clear that their patience was quickly running out with the prime minister, as was evident by the huge parliamentary rebellion against his latest Covid measures this week.
One Conservative MP, Sir Roger Gale, broke cover this morning to warn that Johnson had “one more strike and he’s out.”
One former minister who I spoke to predicted that the real crunch for Johnson will come at the next local elections in May. One or two by-elections may be written off by some as midterm blues, but a truly dire set of local elections would likely be the final straw for most Conservative MPs.
But whenever the end of Johnson’s leadership comes, it is now clear that the end is coming. Johnson’s spell over his party has been broken and they are finally starting to see him for who he really is.
As one former Conservative minister told me last week, the sense that we have entered “the end of the regime” for Johnson’s government is now overwhelming. It is increasingly difficult to see a viable way for him to turn it around.
There will be a fightback of course. In the coming hours we can expect to hear lots of calls from Conservatives for a “reset” in Downing Street, with a new team brought in to “professionalise” Johnson’s operation.
However, as I have written here before, the real problem with Boris Johnson’s administration is Boris Johnson himself. Over the past two years he has demonstrated time and again that he is simply incapable of governing and no amount of new policy chiefs, or deputy PMs will alter that basic fact.
Johnson may survive for a little longer. He may even survive for quite a bit longer.
But last night’s result shows he has finally been found out. The end of the Johnson regime is now only a matter of time.
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