ON Wednesday, drunk with power, Boris “Teflon” Johnson finally overreached himself by trying to neutralise the House of Commons anti-sleaze rules and to prevent Tory MP Owen Paterson from being suspended for 30 days from the Commons. Reluctant Tory lobby fodder voted as instructed by their three-line whip even if many of them may have had strong misgivings.

However, both the SNP and Labour refused to have anything to do with serving on a new Tory-controlled standards committee. On Thursday, the political hangover hit Boris in the form of a huge outcry from not just the Opposition parties but from large sections of the Tory Party, from usually supportive Tory papers like the Daily Mail and The Times and the general public, and Johnson was forced into a U-turn. A little bit of Teflon had finally worn off BoJo and some sleaze is now sticking to him.

This standards fiasco is incredibly important. Privately, Johnson has destroyed some of his trust with Tory MPs. More importantly, it is a public defeat. It is the first parliamentary defeat for Johnson since he was returned with an 80-seat Commons majority in the December 2019 General Election. It is, however, largely a self-inflicted defeat caused by his own hubris: all the opposition parties had to do was to refuse to serve on the tame new standards committee.

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Even more importantly, with the standards shambles, Johnson has lost control of the narrative. The attempt to protect one of his own was so blatant that even the Daily Mail ran the front-page headline “Shameless MPs sink back into sleaze”. If the narrative of “shameless Tory sleaze” sticks, then this could do real long-term harm to the Johnson government. And now that Paterson has resigned, causing a by-election, the opportunity has arisen to take the sleaze narrative out of Westminster and into the streets and houses of North Shropshire and give the people a say.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference during the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. Picture date: Tuesday November 2, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Cop26 . Photo credit should read: Stefan

This creates an open goal for the opposition parties, if only, paradoxically, they can agree to stay off the park. North Shropshire is one of the safest Tory seats in England. In 2019, Paterson won more than 35,000, a 62.7% share of the vote, and had a majority of almost 23,000. Labour has no chance in that seat coming in a very poor second with under 13,000 votes last time, nor do any of the other parties. What may have a chance of defeating the Tories is an independent anti-corruption candidate. The Conservative-leaning voters of North Shropshire might be willing to vote for a centrist anti-corruption candidate as a protest against Tory sleaze.

However, for this to happen, the other parties must stand down from the by-election to give an independent a clear run. Unbelievably, with remarkable stupidity, Starmer has already made it clear that Labour will stand a candidate even though their defeat is inevitable!

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Starmer has been a complete failure so far as Labour leader. Despite facing the complacent, incompetent clown that is BoJo, the Labour Party remain persistently behind in the polls. Starmer has been unable to develop attractive polices and he has all the charisma of a recorded message. Now it seems he also lacks both strategic political nous and personal modesty by insisting on certain Labour defeat rather than allowing a possible independent victory. It seems Starmer would prefer his own team miss an open goal rather than let someone else score one!

If this happens and the Tories retain North Shropshire, then Boris Johnson will proclaim the result as a personal triumph, concern about Tory sleaze will die down in the public discourse and he will continue sailing on to his apparently inevitable victory at the next General Election. Boris Johnson’s own complacent incompetence and arrogance is probably a greater threat to the Tories than the boring, unimaginative Sir Keir Starmer!