Stunning Lib Dem win in North Shropshire by-election
By Robert Court
On December 16 voters in North Shropshire emphatically rejected the Conservative candidate and elected Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan. With Chesham and Amersham this makes two big Lib Dem by-election gains from the Tories in 2021. Helen jumped from third place in 2019, turning a deficit of nearly 30,000 votes into a 5,925 majority. The 34% swing from the Conservatives to Lib Dems was the highest in 28 years. Having visited the constituency to help with the campaign, I was struck by the similarities to Derbyshire Dales. Five towns and many villages in a large area. Hedgerows instead of drystone walls and flatter than our part of the Peak, but beautiful agricultural land. Interestingly, North Shropshire's electoral history has been remarkably similar to ours too - until now.
North Shropshire voted for the local candidate rather than for the parachuted-in Conservative barrister from Birmingham. Helen Morgan's campaign focused on deep local concerns about the NHS and ambulance services. Many farmers switched their vote from Conservative to Lib Dem as the farming community becomes more and more concerned about the Government's attitude towards growing food in the post-Brexit world. How will they be able to make a living? And what harm will be done both to farmers and to consumers if cheap food imports from beyond Europe are permitted with standards lower than those that our farmers adhere to?
There can be no doubt that this by-election was a huge vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson and his Government. Voters feel that they cannot trust what the Prime Minister says. The by-election was brought about by the resignation of Owen Paterson. He "repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant", according to the impartial Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The Prime Minister not only supported Mr Paterson but tried to change the rules retrospectively in his favour. He thus confirmed an impression of sleaze and corruption engulfing his party, in which he is personally complicit. Then the truth came out about government parties during lockdown, showing that there is "one rule for us, no rules for them". People felt taken for granted and treated with contempt by the Tories.
So what happened at the polls?
- Conservatives stayed at home in their thousands, but many voted Lib Dem, often for the first time. "I've voted Conservative all my life, but never again" was frequently heard on doorsteps. The Conservatives lost a massive two thirds of their 2019 vote.
- Labour voters realised that, even having been in second place, their party would never win a rural seat like North Shropshire. So they voted tactically Lib Dem. The Labour vote collapsed, but many thanks are due to Labour supporters who lent their votes to us.
- The Liberal Democrat vote more than trebled, even on a low turnout. Thanks to a great effort from Lib Dems from all over the country, North Shropshire has gained in Helen Morgan a local MP who will work incredibly hard for the community.
And so what of us? Bearing in mind the similarities between North Shropshire and Derbyshire Dales, just for fun let's imagine that the same swing to the Liberal Democrats were to happen here. Well if it did, we would win Derbyshire Dales with a majority of about 11,500! Now that is something to work for.