LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has suffered a staggering defeat in a parliamentary by-election that was a referendum on his government amid weeks of scandals and rising COVID-19 infections.
Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan overturned a Conservative majority of nearly 23,000 votes from the last election to win Thursday’s contest in North Shropshire, a rural area in north-west England that has been almost consistently Conservative since 1832. The choice was made according to the former Conservative. exclaimed A MP resigned after a corruption scandal.
The result will put Johnson under pressure just two years after his re-election with a seemingly unassailable majority of 80 seats in parliament. But his authority has been reinforced in recent weeks by allegations that he and his staff attended Christmas parties during the country’s lockdown last year, attempts to protect an ally from allegations of illegal lobbying, and suggestions that he should donate money to fund the lavish renovation wrongly assumed, damaged his official residence.
With that in mind, proponents and opponents are questioning Johnson’s handling of the pandemic after coronavirus infections hit records this week as the highly transmissible variant of Omicron swept the UK
“Tonight the people of North Shropshire spoke on behalf of the British people,” Morgan said in her victory speech. “They said loudly and clearly, ‘Boris Johnson, the party’s over. Your government, driven by lies and shouting, will be held accountable. It is questioned, questioned, and it can and will be defeated. ‘”
Thursday’s result is the Conservatives’ second by-election defeat this year. In June, Liberal Democrat Sarah Green won a by-election in Chesham and Amersham, a constituency north-west of London that was a traditional Conservative stronghold.
Johnson became Prime Minister nearly two and a half years ago, driven by his support for Brexit and his carefully curated image as a clumsy but personable politician.
He consolidated his position by calling early elections just five months later after Parliament rejected the exit agreement he negotiated with the European Union. The Conservatives won 365 seats, 80 more than any other party combined.
But Brexit is no longer the central issue in British politics.
Many voters are frustrated after two years of a pandemic that claimed more than 145,000 lives, triggered a series of lockdowns and weighed on the economy.
Conservative lawmakers rebelled earlier this week when 99 members of Johnson’s party voted against his proposal to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry to nightclubs and major events. The measure was only accepted because the opposition Labor Party supported it.
Then there are the scandals and missteps that make Johnson look more like someone out of control than his preferred role of a slightly disheveled leader who is so busy he won’t bother combing his hair.
He apologized last month after trying to change parliamentary rules to avoid conviction of conservative lawmaker Own Paterson, who lobbied government agencies on behalf of companies he worked for. Paterson eventually resigned, which sparked the North Shropshire by-election.
Since then, Johnson has been hit by a number of news reports that he and his staff attended Christmas parties last November and December when COVID-19 restrictions prevented everyone else from visiting friends or even comforting dying relatives in the hospital.
Johnson first built a wall, saying there were no parties and no rules had been broken. After a video emerged showing employees making the violations easy, Johnson was forced to open an investigation.
Even some members of Johnson’s own party have had enough by now.
Roger Gale, a Conservative lawmaker since 1983, said the North Shropshire outcome was a clear indication that the public was unhappy with the way Johnson is running the government.
“I think this has to be seen as a referendum on the prime minister’s performance and I think the prime minister is now in the final order,” Gale told the BBC. He has “already had two strikes. A vote in the House of Commons earlier this week, now this. One more blow and he’s out. “
However, Charles Walker, another Conservative MP, said the result was more due to people’s anger and fatigue after two years of the pandemic.
While admitting that mistakes were made, he stressed that it was not uncommon for the ruling party to suffer defeat in by-elections.
“Every time there is an outcome like this, people say it’s seismic, people say it’s a shock wave, it’s a tsunami of change, and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t,” he told the BBC . “I don’t think we can read too much into it.”