Early October in Manchester, at the Conservative Party’s conference, Boris Johnson had finally achieved his life ambition.

Inside the Manchester Central conference centre, he could justifiably call himself “World King”, sitting atop British politics with no realistic challengers inside his own party or outside.

Ten bruising weeks later, and the prime minister’s reputation is at its lowest point of his premiership and Tory MPs are discussing whether he can remain in post.

Tax hikes, fuel price hikes, supply line shortages, revolts over the social care system, questions over Number 10 parties during lockdown last year, defending then abandoning an MP found guilty of wrongful lobbying, discrepancies over what Mr Johnson knew about the Tory donor refurbishing his flat, as well as the Peppa Pig World ramblings during his speech to the CBI, have all taken their toll.

The result was the overturning of one of the biggest Tory majorities in the country in North Shropshire, a “blue wall” seat which has always been in Conservative hands, in a by-election defeat to the Liberal Democrats.

If the swing seen in North Shropshire was repeated in a general election, senior Conservatives such as Dominic Raab in Esher and Walton, Jeremy Hunt in South West Surrey, Stephen Hammond in Wimbledon and John Redwood in Wokingham would all, in theory, be casualties.

This is why Conservatives are worried. The mood in parts of the party is venomous.

Those who want Mr Johnson to stay are demanding he change – by improving his operation in Number 10, focussing on winning policies, and avoiding more tax rises.

“Over the last few months there have been some absolute missteps,” senior Tory backbencher Sir Charles Walker told Sky News, who believes talk of replacing Mr Johnson is foolhardy.

But he added: “No prime minister wants the story of him and what may or may not have gone on at Number 10. He can’t afford for that to continue.”

Others are discussing whether Mr Johnson should go, to stop the Tories’ traditional heartland fracturing and destroying the party altogether.

“Downing Street doesn’t realise it’s anything like as bad as it is,” said one well-placed Conservative MP.

Until now, Mr Johnson was held in place by Conservatives convinced he is best placed to retain as much of Labour’s former “red wall” at the next election as possible.

The calculation was that Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and even Mr Raab could not connect with voters in the same way as Mr Johnson.

Now Tories are worrying that Mr Johnson is putting at risk their heartlands; the “blue wall” that also included Chesham and Amersham, which was similarly lost to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election in June.

If this is the guiding question, the prime minister’s future is much less secure.

This puts unifying, calmer figures in the frame like Mr Hunt as a potential successor – someone who had nothing to do with the incumbent and who might steady the ship after the turbulence of the Johnson regime.

The biggest challenge for Mr Johnson is not his colleagues but the public.

The most striking part of today was the hostility on the streets of Uxbridge, Mr Johnson’s adopted political home which he has represented since 2015.

A string of former Johnson voters told me they would not do that again because of his errors, particularly over ‘partygate’.

His home crowd – in what was once a marginal seat – going cold is a telling and worrying sign.

Mr Johnson has extraordinary talents to escape from scrapes, well practised across 20 years in frontline politics.

He will need all of this and more in the New Year to reboot and reset.

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