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Boris Johnson is put on six months' notice by angry Tories

Angry Tories put Boris on notice: MPs give the PM six months to get back on track or face the consequences after the party’s historic by-election defeat

  • PM was told to get his Government back on track within next six months last night as Tory MPs put him on notice over historic Shropshire by-election defeat
  • In one of biggest by-election swings in history, Lib Dems overturned Tory majority in North Shropshire constituency of almost 23,000 – and won by 5,925 votes
  • Fresh questions over PM’s authority yesterday, with Tory MPs telling him to urgently ‘get a grip’ of the No 10 operation

Boris Johnson was told to get his Government back on track within the next six months last night as Tory MPs put him on notice over the historic Shropshire by-election defeat.

In one of the biggest by-election swings in history, the Liberal Democrats overturned a Tory majority in the North Shropshire constituency of almost 23,000 – and won by 5,925 votes.

The decisive result, which saw Helen Morgan take the seat, was described by polling expert Sir John Curtice as a political earthquake that measured ‘8.5 out of ten’ on the Richter scale.

Boris Johnson was told to get his Government back on track within the next six months last night as Tory MPs put him on notice over the historic Shropshire by-election defeat. (The PM is pictured at a west London police station on Friday)

The turnaround triggered a bitter day of recriminations and fresh questions over the Prime Minister’s authority yesterday, with Tory MPs telling him to urgently ‘get a grip’ of the No 10 operation.

Some of Mr Johnson’s critics even tried to seize on the result to suggest the Prime Minister was ‘drinking in the last chance saloon’ – with Sir Roger Gale warning: ‘One more strike and he’s out.’

And while senior figures firmly dismissed any suggestion of Mr Johnson facing an immediate leadership challenge, they warned he had little time to turn things around. 

Several MPs said the PM had around six months to get back on track ahead of critical local elections in May.

Lib Dem victor Helen Morgan with ex-party leader Tim Farron on Friday. In one of the biggest by-election swings in history, the Liberal Democrats overturned a Tory majority in the North Shropshire constituency of almost 23,000 – and won by 5,925 votes

The decisive result, which saw Helen Morgan take the seat, was described by polling expert Sir John Curtice as a political earthquake that measured ‘8.5 out of ten’ on the Richter scale

Above, ballot papers are counted in Shrewsbury. The turnaround triggered a bitter day of recriminations and fresh questions over the Prime Minister’s authority yesterday, with Tory MPs telling him to urgently ‘get a grip’ of the No 10 operation

One former Cabinet minister said: ‘If there is a bloodbath at the local elections that could well be the trigger for a move against him.’

Another Tory MP said: ‘He’s got some time to rebuild but he has to do it by the spring. He cannot afford a meltdown at the local elections. That might easily push people into action.’ And another minister added: ‘Hopefully the message will have now got through to the bunker that all is not well outside.

Biggest swing in almost three decades

The Liberal Democrats achieved the biggest by-election swing against a government in 28 years.

The 34.1 per cent swing from the Tories to the Lib Dems in North Shropshire gave newly-elected Helen Morgan a majority of nearly 6,000.

The only time this has been beaten in recent years was at the Christchurch by-election in July 1993. Following the death of the sitting Conservative MP, Liberal Democrat candidate Diana Maddock turned a Tory majority of more than 23,000 into a Lib Dem majority of over 16,000. 

The Tories regained the seat at the 1997 general election.

The historic record does not include by-elections where the same person retained their seat as a member of a different party. 

For example, sitting Tory MP Douglas Carswell defected to Ukip for the Clacton by-election in 2014 and won with a swing of 44 per cent.

‘The vote this week in Parliament was Tory MPs sounding the alarm, now voters have done the same. No 10 should listen – the PM has six months maximum to get back on track.’

Yesterday, Mr Johnson said he took ‘personal responsibility’ for what he described as a ‘very disappointing’ loss in the seat vacated by Owen Paterson after he was found to have broken lobbying rules. 

The PM acknowledged he needed to ‘fix’ issues such as the allegations about Downing Street parties, which have fuelled anger inside Parliament and beyond.

However, he appeared to implicitly criticise the media by insisting that a ‘constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians’ had overshadowed the Government’s successes like the rapid rollout of the Covid booster jab campaign.

‘I’ve got to put my hands up and say ‘Have I failed to get that message across in the last few weeks? Has it been obscured by all this other stuff?’ Yes, I’m afraid it has,’ he said.

Yesterday’s result came at the end of a grim week dominated by claims of Covid rule-breaking in No 10 and a revolt by Tory MPs over restrictions.

And it has led to fresh speculation over the leadership ambitions of both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – widely seen as the favourites to suceed him – while some Tories even claimed that Michael Gove was ‘on manoeuvres’ for a potential third leadership bid.

 ‘People turn up and find that Michael is the guest of honour, setting out how he sees the world,’ a source said. ‘It’s just like last time.’

But an ally of Mr Gove dismissed the claim as ‘total nonsense’.

Senior Tories insisted yesterday that there was no chance of Mr Johnson facing an immediate leadership challenge.


Yesterday’s result came at the end of a grim week dominated by claims of Covid rule-breaking in No 10 and a revolt by Tory MPs over restrictions. And it has led to fresh speculation over the leadership ambitions of both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – widely seen as the favourites to succeed him – while some Tories even claimed that Michael Gove was ‘on manoeuvres’ for a potential third leadership bid

Ruth Davidson (above), the former Scottish Conservatives leader, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that the PM was ‘in the last chance saloon’ and that backbenchers were ‘tired of the constant drama coming out of No 10 and the No 11 flat’ where he lives

One backbencher poured cold water on the idea, saying: ‘The mood is bad, there is plenty of venom, but we did not get rid of Theresa May after she lost our majority. Anyone saying Boris should go is a fantasist.’

But Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Conservatives leader, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that the PM was ‘in the last chance saloon’ and that backbenchers were ‘tired of the constant drama coming out of No 10 and the No 11 flat’ where he lives.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the treasurer of the 1922 committee, said it was not the time for a ‘big blame game’ but that Mr Johnson needed to stop the ‘self-inflicted own goals’.

‘I want him to succeed, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt,’ he told Sky News. ‘But in doing that, as one of his seasoned backbenchers, I am asking him to think carefully how he governs the country and avoid these self-inflicted measures.’

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith added: ‘Going forward now, Downing Street has only one purpose and that is to deliver for the Prime Minister. That means structured discipline and a purpose of delivery. If those are not in place then those individuals who cannot focus need to go.’

JASON GROVES: As one disillusioned MP put it: ‘We’ve had an advent calendar of s***. Every day the door opens, more pours out’

By JASON GROVES for the Daily Mail 

By now Owen Paterson could have served his 30-day suspension for breaking lobbying rules and, in a parallel universe, be back in the Commons as MP for the ultra-safe Tory seat of North Shropshire.

Instead, Mr Paterson has resigned in disgrace, the Conservatives have contrived to lose the seat to the Liberal Democrats and backbench Tory MPs are openly warning that Boris Johnson is ‘one strike’ away from being forced from office.

The scale of the by-election defeat is dire for the Tories, even by the standards of governments suffering mid-term blues. 

The last time the Tories suffered a swing of more than 30 per cent to the Lib Dems was in Christchurch in 1993. Historians will note at the following general election the party was demolished by a Labour landslide.

But it is the self-inflicted nature of the wound that is causing Conservative MPs to ponder whether Mr Johnson really is the right man to lead them into the next election.

The scale of the Shropshire by-election defeat is dire for the Tories, even by the standards of governments suffering mid-term blues. The last time the Tories suffered a swing of more than 30 per cent to the Lib Dems was in Christchurch in 1993. But it is the self-inflicted nature of the wound that is causing Conservative MPs to ponder whether Boris Johnson really is the right man to lead them into the next election

Without the PM’s botched attempt to save Mr Paterson there would likely have been no by-election. Without the attempt to change Parliament’s sleaze rules, the Conservatives would likely not have suffered the tidal wave of allegations over bad behaviour that cost them the support of thousands of traditional Shropshire Tories.

One senior Tory who spent considerable time in the constituency said claims of lockdown-busting parties in No 10 had triggered molten anger on the doorsteps of Oswestry and Market Drayton. ‘We had a good candidate – people thought he was a nice guy – but they are p***** off with us,’ the source said.

‘It was just party, party, party on the doorstep. After that video dropped of people in No 10 laughing, it just got worse and worse.

‘They are Tories, it’s a Tory seat – and if we can get our act together we can win it back – but they want competent government… and they don’t feel they are getting that at the moment.’

By now Owen Paterson (above) could have served his 30-day suspension for breaking lobbying rules and, in a parallel universe, be back in the Commons as MP for the ultra-safe Tory seat of North Shropshire. Instead, Mr Paterson has resigned in disgrace, the Conservatives have contrived to lose the seat to the Liberal Democrats and backbench Tory MPs are openly warning that Boris Johnson is ‘one strike’ away from being forced from office

The mood among Tory MPs about the Government’s performance in recent weeks is equally hostile. One backbencher complained: ‘We’ve had an Advent calendar of s*** from No 10. Every day another door opens and more s*** pours out.’

Some – admittedly Remainer allies of former PM Theresa May – are in open revolt.

Sir Roger Gale yesterday revealed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson and declared it was ‘last orders time’. Ruth Davidson, another frequent Boris critic, said Mr Johnson had been ‘put on warning by his MPs’. ‘They’re looking for a bit of bloody grip to be exerted,’ she said.

But most backbenchers yesterday agreed with the more measured assessment from Tory grandee Sir Charles Walker, who warned it would be ‘completely self-indulgent’ to force a leadership contest as Britain enters another Covid crisis. 

‘If we go on making unforced errors over the next three to six months or nine months, it will become a lot more serious,’ he said.

Helen Morgan of the Liberal Democrats following her victory in the North Shropshire by-election on Friday

Several MPs identified next May’s local elections as a possible flashpoint for a leadership challenge. ‘He’s got six months to sort it out,’ said one former Cabinet minister.

‘People need to see government competence as a bare minimum. He’s got to cut out the debilitating self-inflicted damage. But the poll ratings matter too. People are starting to calculate what it all means for their own seats. If there is a bloodbath at the local elections, that could well be the trigger for a move against him.’

Most MPs believe the PM has the capacity to right the ship. He still attracts some residual loyalty for his 2019 win and there is widespread recognition that behind the bluster he remains one of the shrewdest politicians of his generation.

Almost all want him to sort out a No 10 team widely viewed as dysfunctional. Many want to see a clear out of the whips office in the wake of this week’s extraordinary rebellion over Covid restrictions by 100 Tory MPs.

Some believe a wider reshuffle is needed. But there are serious doubts about whether the PM has the will to change – or even really accepts he has a problem.

The issue was raised this week at a hastily-convened meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee, where Mr Johnson tried and failed to persuade mutinous MPs to back him over Covid.

According to witnesses, Andrew Percy, a long-time member of the Tory ‘Awkward Squad’, told Mr Johnson he could potentially remain PM for years provided he ‘sorted out his team in No 10’.

One witness said: ‘The PM said we ‘shouldn’t believe all that media guff’ – he just dismissed it. People had their heads in their hands at the level of denial.’

One former Cabinet minister predicted that discreet campaigning by potential successors was likely to intensify in the wake of the PM’s nightmare week. Liz Truss is brazenly portraying herself as the second coming of Margaret Thatcher – a low tax, freedom loving, woke-bashing Tory

Mr Johnson yesterday insisted he took ‘personal responsibility’ for the disastrous result in North Shropshire. 

But, he again appeared to blame the media – and even the voters – for his predicament, saying people had been too fixated on ‘politics and politicians’ and failed to notice the Government’s other achievements, such as the rapid rollout of booster jabs.

All of this has led to fresh speculation about who might replace him. One former Cabinet minister predicted that discreet campaigning by potential successors was likely to intensify in the wake of the PM’s nightmare week. 

Liz Truss is brazenly portraying herself as the second coming of Margaret Thatcher – a low tax, freedom loving, woke-bashing Tory, who is only too happy to pose for a photo op on top of a tank.

In a swipe at rival Rishi Sunak, the Foreign Secretary has let it be known that she opposed his decision to raise taxes to pay for social care – and has even hinted she briefly considered resigning from the Cabinet over the issue.

Allies of Mr Sunak gently point out that, unlike the Chancellor, Miss Truss is a late convert to Brexit, having campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum. 

At his own briefings, the Chancellor stresses his tax-cutting ambitions, indicating he hopes to emulate Nigel Lawson by slashing the main rate of income tax when circumstances allow.

But the two frontrunners are by no means the only ones on manoeuvres.

Tory MPs report that Treasury minister Mel Stride has again started hosting cosy dinner parties for backbenchers at which Michael Gove is always the guest of honour – prompting speculation he is considering a third tilt at the top job.

Tory MPs believe Priti Patel is ‘certain’ to run, and the former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt is also said to have sounded out potential supporters.

Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi both have their admirers. And ambitious outsiders like Tom Tugendhat are expected to have a go, if only to increase their prospects of a Cabinet post.

The lack of an obvious successor will buy Mr Johnson some time. Even his critics acknowledge there is no one with his tried and tested electoral appeal.

But his unique selling point has always been his ability to defy political gravity – the politician who won two terms of office in Labour London, who led a victorious Brexit campaign against the odds, who secured seats in Labour’s heartlands that had been red for a century.

Suddenly political gravity has started to reassert itself. In fact, some MPs fear Mr Johnson is in danger of becoming a political black hole which sucks the party down with him.

He has time to turn the anti-gravity machine back on if he can remember how. But perhaps not as much time as he thinks.

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