Flustered Boris Johnson desperately complained that voters and the media have been focusing on sleaze and ‘Partygate’ rather than Omicron today as he faces Tory meltdown over the staggering by-election defeat.
The PM admitted he is ‘responsible for everything the government does’ as he was asked during a bad-tempered interview whether he was personally to blame for the ‘earthquake’ result in North Shropshire overnight, where a 23,000 Conservative majority was wiped out.
He conceded that the public is ‘frustrated’ and he had to ‘accept the verdict’ of voters who flocked to the Lib Dems.
But Mr Johnson went on to moan about the coverage of stories about sleaze and alleged lockdown breaches in Downing Street, suggesting people were not hearing what he had to say on their own ‘priorities’.
Repeatedly pressed by the Sky News reporter on what was going wrong and how he was going to turn things around, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think that people are frustrated and I understand that… Basically what’s been going wrong… is that in the last few weeks some things have been going very well, but what the people have been hearing… is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn’t about them and isn’t about the things that we can do to make life better.
‘And so to that extent, of course, you’re right – and I think the job of the Government is to make people like you… interested in the booster rollout and in skills, and in housing, and in everything else that we’re doing.
‘And unfortunately, you’re totally right, we haven’t been able to get the focus on those issues.’
Challenged again on what he was doing wrong, Mr Johnson snapped: ‘If I may say respectfully, Omicron…is a very serious threat to us now.’
Senior Conservatives have been venting fury at the PM after a stunning turnaround saw the Lib Dems seize the true-blue stronghold by a margin of 6,000.
The astonishing result immediately fuelled a seething uprising against Mr Johnson, who suffered one of the biggest Commons rebellions ever over Covid measures this week, and has been battling allegations of sleaze and lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
North Shropshire had previously only had Tory MPs in its modern incarnation, forerunner constituencies were also held by the party, and its voters staunchly backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
But the latest contest was triggered by the resignation of ex-minister Owen Paterson after a disastrous attempt from Mr Johnson to save him from lobbying scandal last month.
And the seat – on paper the 76th safest – was lost with one of the largest by-election swings in British electoral history, at 34 percentage points.The Lib Dem victor, Cambridge-educated accountant Helen Morgan, finished a distant third in the 2019 general election.
Revealing that he has already sent a letter of no confidence to the Tory 1922 committee chairman, veteran MP Roger Gale said the defeat was a ‘referendum on the PM’s performance’ and he is at ‘last orders time’.
A normally loyal northern MP warned that Mr Johnson is ‘finished’ and it is ‘just a matter of time’ before he goes.
Other Conservatives played down the prospect of an immediate crisis for the premier, but said a further disaster at the May summer reading programs local elections would likely be fatal.
‘With John Major everybody thought it was going to get better if we wait a bit longer.It didn’t. It just got worse,’ one veteran MP said.
‘The reality is the Tory party is quite brutal. It gave Theresa one go, she won the vote of confidence – and then she just carried on being ‘sh**.’
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