A bomb for the Tories on Super Thursday
Boris Johnson can't have been too happy when he woke up this morning. But others in Parliament might not be so gloomy.
What a blast
In the most literal sense.
When I couldn’t find a single one of our national broadcasters - the BBC, Sky News, GB News, et al. - with wall-to-wall coverage of the North Shropshire by-election at polls closed, my hopes of a by-election all-nighter were dashed.
But when I went back to catch some of the late-night coverage this morning, I realised it might have been worth the wait to stay up.
I might have not had a blast last night, but a bomb was certainly thrown on 10 Downing Street. The anti-Tory protest vote appears to have materialised in a way many supporters of our PM had hoped it would not. On top of that, Labour failed to show out whatsoever - in fact reducing their 3rd place standing by some 12.4%. The result: the Lib Dems took a phenomenally safe Tory seat in a massive by-election (and political) upset.
All that is to say that it’s hard to consider this a Lib Dem “victory” in any other sense that they happened to win the most votes. Rather, the Lib Dems snatched it because the constituents of North Shropshire handed our embattled PM a big thumbs down in response to recent controversies and crises. When it comes to judging Sir Keir Starmer, they didn’t even care enough to show out.
Worst of all, the by-election - triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson - really needn’t have happened at all. Labour hardly helped, but the consequences will fall squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister, squandering a 23,000 seat majority - in a Leave seat no less - in just two years.
So, who will be the next Prime Minister?
The bookies may be at it but it’s too early for bets. Let us not kid ourselves that the BoJo era is over.
But I predict this is a turning point in the PM’s premiership. No longer will the Prime Minister be considered the Brexit golden boy. Going forward, I’m convinced that everything he does will be met with a Tory cynicism - in Parliament and in the press - that simply hasn’t seemed to materialise thus far.
Lockdown will be the first battlefield of the new Tory civil war. There are plenty of Lockdown Skeptics on the Tory backbenches, Steve Baker MP offers only the most charismatic example. But expect that rebellious enthusiasm to shape everything on the Johnson legislative agenda.
Here’s hoping his more (shall we say) ‘illiberal tendencies’ and ‘truth economising’ are the first things to go. If not, it’s hard to see how he or the Tories could survive come the next election.
That also means that Cabinet misbehaviour might become more and more a part of British political life. In a dramatic reversal, politicking reminiscent of the death of Stalin may be just around the corner.
This by-election was a blow to Boris Johnson. But it’s easy to forget that the man many said ‘would never ever be PM’ has been written off many, many, many times before. There’s a parliamentary recess coming up and the distraction of the holiday season for the public. Will this by-election really cut through?
I’d recommend keeping an eye on the Spectator’s data aggregate for Prime Ministerial polling to see, available here: https://data.spectator.co.uk/category/politics.
And this is worth a watch, too: