James Forsyth

If the Tories can lose in Shropshire, they can lose anywhere

If the Tories can lose in Shropshire, they can lose anywhere
(Photo: Getty)
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The Tory defeat in North Shropshire is a far worse result for the party and Boris Johnson than their loss in Chesham and Amersham. Chesham and Amersham could be put down to local anger about HS2 and disquiet over planning reform. It was also a seat ripe for tactical voting given it had voted Remain and the Lib Dems were a clear second. North Shropshire, by contrast, is a heavily voting Leave seat where the Liberal Democrats were in third place. There was also no single policy driving voters away from the Tories in the way that planning reform did in Chesham and Amersham. If the Tories can lose this seat in a by-election, they can lose anywhere in one of these contests.

There’ll be much Tory anger at Boris Johnson over the result. After all, there wouldn’t have been a by-election at all if not for the attempt to stay the standards commissioner’s verdict against Owen Paterson.

Talking to Tory MPs this morning, there is a sense that this anger won’t translate into immediate action. There is a view, as I write in the Times today, that a no confidence vote when Covid cases are rocketing would be a supreme act of self-indulgence.

But the result has increased the importance of the local elections in May for Johnson. The seats up in May were last contested in 2018 and the results then suggested that Labour and the Tories were, in projected national vote share, roughly level-pegging. If the Tory result this time is worse, it will take the already considerable backbench jitters to the next level.

One of the worries for Boris Johnson is that it is hard to see the political situation improving for him in 2022. The start of the year will be dominated by Covid, again and the question of how much pressure the NHS is under. Then in April, taxes will go up. At the same time, inflation will be acting as a drag on living standards. For these reasons, it is hard to see what turns Johnson’s political fortunes around.