Can Prime Minister Boris Johnson Survive After By-Election Defeat?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may “go” very soon. His leadership of the Conservative Party is in the balance after their defeat in the North Shropshire by-election. If he is given the heave-ho it will be the result of a groundswell of revulsion in the general public at the lies, hypocrisy and sleaze that surrounds Johnson’s Tory government. There is nothing like the prospect of losing their seats to motivate Tory MPs to change their leader.

The Johnson government’s handling of the COVID pandemic has been appalling. According to John Hopkins University figures, 147,000 people have perished from COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. Pro-rata that would be the equivalent of 10,764 COVID deaths in Aotearoa. The Tories have survived in government for the simple reason that the Starmer-led Labour Party has not fought for alternative policies. The Tories should have been trounced long before now, but Labour has been unable to land killer blows.

For much of the public the last straw is the revelations of Downing Street and government department Christmas parties that took place a year ago in breach of the restrictions imposed on ordinary folk in the battle against the pandemic. Just days ago the government faced a rebellion in the ranks of Tory MPs against COVID passports. The measures only passed with Labour’s support. Typically Labour missed the opportunity to demand stiffer protections against the Omicron variant that is sweeping through the country. An earlier scandal provided the reason for the North Shropshire by-election. The incumbent Tory MP had to resign, eventually, after being found out as a lobbyist in the pay of two private companies. To make the scandal worse, the Tories, with Johnson’s backing, tried to protect the errant MP, causing a storm of indignation and a U-turn by Johnson to force the resignation.

The North Shropshire by-election is a lens through which something can be learned about the current state of politics in the UK. The small town and rural parliamentary constituency has always been won by the Conservatives. The by-election was comfortably won by the Liberal Democrats on one of the biggest swings in British parliamentary history – a political earthquake.

Liberal Democrat17,95747.2

Labour’s vote was by far the worst since the constituency was created in 1983. This was not the case of Labour as the third-placed party being squeezed to oust the Tory. Labour was the second-placed party in the last three general elections and has only once come third since 1997. It should have been a case of Liberal Democrats tactically voting for Labour, not the other way round. So what happened?

Incredibly, the Labour leadership did all they could to lose. In the last three elections the Labour candidate was Graeme Currie, a Labour stalwart and a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. The Blairite Starmer would prefer to lose an election than allow a Corbyn supporter be elected. Currie was barred from the candidate selection process in favour of a standard Labour know-nothing.

But the candidate switch was not the main reason for Labour’s failure. Despite being historically the second-placed party, the leadership decided that Labour could not win and informally backed the Liberal Democrats. Labour did not put resources into the campaign on the grounds it would have been a waste of money. Unlike Johnson, Starmer did not once visit the constituency. Labour’s shadow Foreign Office minister Yasmin Quershi was quoted saying “Well, it’s realistic. I mean, let’s face it, Labour are never going to win North Shropshire. The Lib Dems do have an opportunity to do so. It’s not just soft-pedalling, I do think that in constituencies like these ones, where Labour don’t have a huge amount of resources we know, realistically, we have no chance of winning.”

Blairite Labour does not believe in a Labour Party in the sense of a party representing the working class. Not only was their pro-Liberal Democrat stand completely unprincipled it was tactically and strategically stupid. Strategically, because they have again reinforced a habit of handing votes over to the Liberal Democrats in Tory-held seats. Labour could have won.

As seen above the Liberal Democrat won with 17,957 votes, although to beat the Tory only required 12,033 votes.

In fact, Labour, with Graeme Currie as their candidate, polled more than 12,033 at the last general election in 2019.

In fact, in the 2017 general election, with Currie as their candidate and Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, Labour polled 17,287 votes.

In fact, in the 2001 general election Labour polled 16,390 votes.

In fact, in the 1997 general election Labour polled 18,535 votes.

In fact, Keir Starmer, you useless Labour misleader, in the eight North Shropshire elections from 1992 until this by-election debacle Labour polled more than 12,033 votes six times.

North Shropshire was far from unwinnable. With the Tories on the rocks, Labour should have conducted a barn-storming election campaign and demanded Liberal Democrat support.

One other matter of note on the by-election was the presence of the far-right. It was disparate and did not do well, but had they been united in one party, they would have done better. As it was, there were candidates from Reform UK, UKIP, Reclaim and Heritage. Together they mustered 6 percent of the vote.

Whether, or for how long, Boris Johnson carries on as Tory leader is in the hands of his party. It would be better if the British Labour Party was able to force the issue; and they might have done if they had an ounce of feeling for the class struggle and any political courage. As it is, Labour’s supine leadership and Blairite MPs have gained nothing from the Tories latest crisis. They deserve nothing but contempt.

With this piece, the International Socialist Organisation signs off for 2021 to make space for rest and refocusing. Happy holidays, comrades.