UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a major blow in his premiership when his ruling Conservative Party lost a “safe” seat in a by-election.
The minority Liberal Democrats won the North Shropshire parliamentary seat with a margin of 5,925 votes, overturning a 23,000 majority the Conservatives gained in the 2019 general election, reports Xinhua news agency.
Liberal Democrats candidate Helen Morgan won 17,957 votes, almost half of the total cast. Conservative Neil Shastri-Hurst, a barrister from Birmingham, came second with 12,032 votes, and Ben Wood from the main opposition Labor Party came third with 3,686 votes.
The Conservative Party held the seat for nearly 200 years.
The by-election was called after the resignation of Owen Paterson who had been MP for 24 years.
He quit Westminster after being found guilty of lobbying by contacting government ministers on behalf of companies paying him 112,000 pounds ($150,000).
Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey attributed the result to what he called Johnson’s “failure to provide leadership throughout the pandemic”.
Other politicians rallied behind Johnson, with senior backbench MP Charles Walker, commenting: “I don’t think we can read too much into this. Of course it’s disappointing for the Conservative party, of course we would like to have won. But it doesn’t mean the end, and it doesn’t mean leadership challenges.”
Scandals and criticism of Johnson’s handling of Covid-19 have sent the Conservatives’ approval ratings to their lowest level since Johnson became Prime Minister.
Latest polls have put the main opposition Labour Party ahead of the Conservatives.