Boris Johnson ‘referendum’ as PM could follow Thatcher ousting after North Shropshire vote

Boris Johnson has ‘three months’ to save job says commentator

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The polls have opened in the constituency of North Shropshire to elect a new MP. Tory MP Owen Paterson resigned last month after being found to have breached parliamentary rules on lobbying. The former Cabinet minister had held the constituency since 1997.

There are 14 candidates standing in the election, with the Liberal Democrats tipped to cause an upset.

If the odds are reflected in the result, they would deliver a significant fresh blow to the Prime Minister’s authority.

He has already come under the cosh following reports suggesting that a Christmas party was held in his office while the country was under lockdown last year.

And, he is facing a considerable rebellion after many backbenchers rejected a swathe of new COVID-19 restrictions — only passed through Parliament with the support of the Labour Party.

Now, many have looked back to the last time the Liberal Democrats were touted as winning a Tory safe seat, this time during Margaret Thatcher’s stint as Prime Minister.

In 1990, the Conservatives faced a by-election in the seat of Eastbourne.

Voters there went to the polls following the assassination of Ian Gow in an IRA car bomb attack.

Mr Gow had a majority of 16,000, and was seen as unassailable.

Yet, the Lib Dems eventually took the seat with a swing of 20 percent.

Suddenly, Tory backbenchers started to fear that their own seats might be vulnerable.

Six weeks later, Mrs Thatcher was ousted as party leader.

It came at a time when her personal ratings had seriously slumped.

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This week, an Ipsos MORI poll found that Mr Johsnon had fallen behind opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer by 13 points.

When the country was asked who was “most capable” of leading the country, he came out on 33 percent, while Sir Keir scored 44 percent.

And, according to Mr Johnson’s YouGov approval ratings, 64 percent of people currently believe he is doing a bad job as Prime Minister.

Fifty-six percent of people believe Sir Keir is doing badly as the Opposition leader.

While the number of those who think he is doing well has sharply increased, the same number who think Mr Johnson is doing well has dive-bombed.

In an analysis piece on the North Shropshire by-election, The Telegraph declared that this is “Boris Johnson’s own personal referendum”.

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Gordan Rayner and Tony Diver, the authors of the analysis piece, noted: “While history remembers Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech as the moment that triggered Thatcher’s downfall, it was the Eastbourne by-election that startled the horses and left her exposed.

“Boris Johnson will be hoping that North Shropshire does not turn out to be his own Eastbourne moment.”

There have already been defections during the campaign.

On Tory councillor in North Shropshire, Anthony Allen, switched his affiliation to Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party.

And, in the same seat, Mark Whittle joined Reform UK, the party created by Nigel Farage after Brexit.

The Deputy Mayor of Market Drayton described his defection as “the most difficult decision I have ever made” and said it had come after “a great deal of soul-searching”.

He said: “I’m faced with no choice… how can I possibly back a candidate from Birmingham who has zero knowledge of North Shropshire and the challenges our community faces.

“The Conservatives should have selected locally rather than be pressured into supporting someone with no prior interest or knowledge of the area.”

The Liberal Democrats have pounced on the discord within the Tory party.

Helen Morgan, the Liberal Democrat candidate, told The Telegraph: “There are a lot of Conservative switchers out there who have already committed to switch to us, and another big chunk who are showing signs of discontent and dissatisfaction.”

She added that she did not feel “there has been a great will to fight for it” from Tory activists.

Polls close in North Shropshire tonight at 10pm.

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