The Liberal Democrats have won the North Shropshire by-election in a shock result that will send shivers of horror through the Conservative Party and may trigger the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership.
Both the size of the swing (the party overturned a Tory majority of 22,949) and the nature of the seat itself – it is rich in homeowners and Leave voters, and has very few Remainers or graduates, making it very friendly Tory terrain and inauspicious turf for the Liberal Democrats – make it one of the biggest by-election shocks in decades (the Lib Dem majority is 5,925).
It will send shivers of fear through the Conservative Party. Tory MPs in seats that are more favourable to the Liberal Democrats than this – a category that includes essentially almost every seat that is not called “North Shropshire” – will fear that this is a sign that they are headed for calamity. MPs in the Conservative-Labour battleground, meanwhile, will worry that they, too, have reasons to be fearful.
The biggest immediate consequence will be to further reduce the likelihood of a new lockdown. Johnson himself will be all too aware that any form of further restrictions could trigger a terminal crisis for his leadership, while any Conservative with ambitions for the top job will be keen to avoid alienating the large and growing number of lockdown opponents on the Tory benches. A difficult time lies ahead for the Prime Minister and, very probably, for the country as it battles the Omicron variant.