Alastair Stewart: The North Shropshire by-election was a public kicking for Boris Johnson

The LibDems did well for two reasons - Tories left the goal wide open and Labour stood back.

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Like many in my trade, I have a fascination with by-elections.

They can be caused by all manner of things like scandal, abuse of position and, of course, even death.

For a brief period they totally dominate the political landscape.

The headlines are the easy bit: ‘X dramatically snatches victory!’; ‘Y hangs on, against all the odds’; and ‘Z comes from nowhere to recast the political landscape’.

Few, if any, are remembered by the public even a few months later, let alone a few years later.

They distort everything and are usually great fun.The claims made, before the vote and in the wake of the declaration, however, linger a little longer: “We will break the mould of British politics!” and “Go back to your constituencies are prepare for government!”.

But today’s “We’ve burst the Boris bubble” is perhaps a little more interesting.…A bit of context about by-elections, leaders and the prospects of their parties.

When Labour were in deep trouble under Michael Foot, in the late 70s and early 80s, it took the SDP to change them.In 1982 Glasgow Hillhead fell to the former Labour grandee Roy Jenkins in SDP colours.

His was one of many transitory but important victories that eventually prompted the Labour party of Michael Foot to change. From the drama of Neil Kinnock, taking on the hard-left, to the revolution of Tony Blair’s New Labour, it was the SDP, as much as anything, that brought that about.You might ask where the SDP are now?…but that is not the point.

Eastbourne in 1990, a by-election caused by the murder of Margaret Thatcher’s friend and ally, Ian Gow, brought nearer the end of the Iron Lady herself. It signalled a growing disquiet with her leadership not just in the party hierarchy but even in the south coast home counties. It provided grist to the mill of her Cabinet enemies and, within a little time, she was gone.

And Wirral South, in 1997, helped put the limping Government of John Major out of its agony. It cost him his slender majority and heralded the General Election that saw Tony Blair sweep to victory and go on to govern for a decade and more.

So what of North Shropshire?

We are less than 24 hours from the declaration and the analysis continues apace. But a few things seem clear. The truth of last night’s high drama and shoot out at the North Shropshire coral is that the LibDems did well for two reasons that have nothing to do with the LibDem manifesto: The Tories left the goal wide open and Labour stood back.

The venom dripped on the Tories, in a pretty low turnout, was real and Boris Johnson was personally the magnet for much of it.

This was not a demand for a Liberal Democrat Government but a public kicking for Boris Johnson.