OPINION - If Boris Johnson is no longer a winner, what is he for?

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

It was only the spring when the Conservative coalition seemed to span the entire nation (of England, that is). From deepest Red Wall Hartlepool to the traditional Tory shires, Boris Johnson sat astride the political centre, tickling our bellies, doling out vaccines and shrugging off any tattletale about wallpaper.

This morning, he awoke to a second spectacular rebellion of the week. The first – when 100 of his backbenchers defied him on Covid restrictions, was embarrassing. This one – a 34 per cent swing against the Tories inflicted by the people of North Shropshire – was a humiliation.

Mid-term by-election defeats happen. The Lib Dems aren’t going to form the next government. Yet to chalk this off as little local difficulties is wishful thinking. This seat not only went Tory for nearly two centuries, but voted 60 per cent Leave in 2016, indicating that Brexit may not be unifying issue it once was.

As we write in today’s leader column, the greatest threat to the Prime Minister is that North Shropshire will make Conservative MPs fear that under his leadership, there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat. Panicked backbenchers, particularly of the Tory variety, tend to act. Just ask Theresa May.

The delicious irony of course is that this by-election was entirely avoidable. Owen Paterson could have taken his punishment and returned to the Commons unnoticed.

Yet what has come to pass is no act of randomness. Boris Johnson didn’t like a rule – in this case, one upheld by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, so he sought to override it.

This is a core part of his character, from lockdown Christmas parties to breaking EU law and proroguing Parliament. As far as Johnson is concerned, rules are for little people.

Indeed you can trace this back to his time as a young journalist, when he was fired from The Times for falsifying a quote. (He fell on his feet, landing a role at The Telegraph.)

Johnson won an EU referendum and secured the Tories their biggest Parliamentary majority since 1987. That’s two more victories than most political careers generate, and Brexit alone means he will go down in history as one of the most consequential political figures this century.

But a decade of Johnson? As the man himself once proclaimed, that now seems as likely as being reincarnated as an olive.

In the comment pages, Emily Sheffield predicts that 2022 will be challenging but compassion will help us on this journey. Meanwhile, City Editor Oscar Williams-Grut calls on the Chancellor not to forget Britain’s struggling shopkeepers.

And finally, ‘Community’, ‘After the 18 months we’ve had’ and *some personal news* — the words and phrases of 2021 that need to be banned ASAP.

Have a lovely weekend.

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