North Shropshire by-election: Boris Johnson now a ‘hindrance’ on campaign trail, local Tories say

‘He gives the general impression that he is a buffoon and that he is not taking things seriously; and what people think of that, I am sure, will come out in the election result’

Colin Drury
Sunday 12 December 2021 12:36 GMT
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Boris Johnson meets staff during a visit to a pharmacy in North Shropshire ahead of the upcoming by-election
Boris Johnson meets staff during a visit to a pharmacy in North Shropshire ahead of the upcoming by-election (PA)

Boris Johnson has become a hindrance to Conservative campaigners in the North Shropshire by-election, local Tories have said amid growing questions about his leadership.

Party activists are being repeatedly admonished on the doorstep over a prime minister perceived to be presiding over a series of scandals and mis-steps – most notably his apparent attempts to cover-up a Downing Street Christmas party, and the news he himself hosted a Christmas quiz.

Campaigners say they are having to spend significant amounts of time listening to disquiet about Mr Johnson’s conduct before they can begin presenting a positive case for the seat’s candidate, Neil Shastri-Hurst.

“I think he’s been a slight hindrance, that’s what people are telling us,” said Mark Jones, a Shropshire councillor who has been campaigning this week with Mr Shastri-Hurst.

“They are mentioning these things so it becomes our job to get them back to the subject which is making sure we get the right candidate for North Shropshire.”

By rights, the by-election – called after previous Tory MP Owen Paterson resigned amid a lobby scandal – should have been a blue stroll. The party has a 23,000 majority and has held the area for almost 200 years.

Yet, while local activists remain confident of seeing off a strong Lib Dem challenge, they say the job has been made intractably more difficult by their leader.

“He gives the general impression that he is a buffoon and that he is not taking things seriously; and what people think of that, I am sure, will come out in the election result,” said Roy Aldcroft, another Shropshire councillor and the Conservative Mayor of Market Drayton. “And I would say, if we do lose this, he [Mr Johnson] would have to reflect on his position.

“I would like to see the whole issue of who leads us through future elections looked at if we lose. I think that applies even if we win but it’s with a largely reduced majority.”

Even party members looking for positives described Mr Johnson as a “Marmite” figure in the area.

“Some people do say he's fantastic but there are an equal number who say, ‘Go away, I’m not going to vote for you again, he's really put me off’,” said Geoff Elner, a third Shropshire councillor.

“We had a 23,000 majority and that's dwindled and dwindled and dwindled because of what has been happening [in Westminster]. We will get in but it will be nowhere the size [of 2019’s victory].”

The local grumbles come as Tory MPs have also begun questioning whether Mr Johnson is up to the job of governing and, crucially, of winning another election.

“If we lost the by-election,” one senior Conservative told The Independent. “then he would be in huge trouble. A by-election loss will damage the idea of him as an election winner. The public haven’t historically applied the same rules to him but that is fading away.”

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