Boris Johnson has accepted responsibility for a shock by election win for the Lib Dems in North Shropshire.
The seat has been blue for more than 200 years with the Lib Dems overturning a conservative majority of 23,000 votes to win the seat. The contest was triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson, the conservative MP who was accused of breaking lobbying rules by a Westminster watchdog.
Johnson caused cross-party outrage by ignoring calls for Paterson’s suspension and trying to change the rules that govern MPs’ behaviour. He was later forced to reverse his position.
Boris Johnson reacts
Speaking for the first time since the election result was announced, Johnson was asked whether he takes responsibility for the defeat. He replied: “I do.”
“I think my job is to get over what we’re doing more effectively,” he added, admitting that the scandal over parties in Downing Street has “obstructed” the task of informing voters about the government’s agenda.
“I totally understand people’s frustrations, I hear what the voters are saying,” he said. “In all humility, I’ve got to accept that verdict”.
Johnson acknowledged that over the past few weeks people have been hearing a “constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians,” which has little to do with them doing their jobs. When asked whether he should resign in order to help the Conservative Party, Johnson said, “what we’re focusing on is getting the job done,” calling for focus on the government’s vaccination programme.
Reacting to the defeat, Tory MP Sir Roger Gale told BBC Radio 4: “this has to be seen as a referendum on the Prime Minister’s performance and I think that the Prime Minister is now in ‘last orders’ time.
“Two strikes already, one earlier this week in the vote in the Commons and now this. One more strike and he’s out,” said Gale referring to a rebellion of 99 Conservative MPs who voted against the Prime Minister’s new lockdown rules this week.
In her acceptance speech Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan told Boris Johnson “the party is over,” referencing claims the government held multiple parties last year during lockdown.
Morgan, who secured a majority of 6,000 for the Lib Dems, said: “tonight the people of North Shropshire have said enough is enough. They have said that you are unfit to lead and they want a change.”
“It is the Liberal Democrats who are opposing Boris Johnson’s campaign and winning,” Morgan continued. “I will always put local people and our communities first.”
‘Nightmare before Christmas’
“Voters in North Shropshire were fed up and they gave us a kicking and I think they wanted to send us a message,” Conservative chairman and lawmaker Oliver Dowden told Sky News. “I want to say as Chairman of the Conservative Party we’ve heard that loud and clear.”
Prof John Curtice described the result as “eight-point-five out of a scale of 10”, adding: “It is not quite unprecedented, but the precedence is not very comfortable for the Conservatives”.
The elections guru told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Two weeks ago nobody… would have seen this coming.”
Martin Daubney, the North Shropshire candidate for the Reclaim Party called the result “a nightmare before Christmas for the Conservatives.”
In the “astonishing” final results support for the Conservatives tumbled by 31 per cent whilst the Lib Dems gained 37 per cent.
Comparisons have been drawn to the June Chesham and Amersham by election which saw the Lib Dems gain 30 per cent of the vote to win a seat which has been Conservative since being formed in 1974.