In a surprise upset at the North Shropshire by-election, the Liberal Democrats have claimed a seat the Conservative Party has held for nearly 200 years. Many have described the vote as akin to a referendum on the prime minister’s performance.
Owen Paterson, former MP for North Shropshire, resigned on the 4th of November, after being found to have breached lobbying rules regarding his support for Randex Laboratories, a company responsible for most of COVID travel testing. Paterson was MP for North Shropshire since 1997, and won in 2019 with a majority of almost 23,000. The Conservative party have held the seat for all but 2 of the past 189 years.
By-Election votes to determine Paterson’s replacement took place on the 16th of December, with most bookmakers expecting a narrow Conservative victory. The popularity of the Conservative party, and particularly public support for Boris Johnson, have taken a considerable hit recently, in light of information about several alleged Downing St. Christmas parties from 2020 have been revealed. The by-election defeat also follows a refusal of almost 100 Conservative MPs to back the Prime Minister’s “Plan B”. Earlier in the year the Conservative Party lost a by-election for Chesham and Amersham, another seat usually considered safely Conservative.
For the past two decades Labour has been the runner up to for the North Shropshire constituency, with the Lib Dems coming in 3rd, but after the Liberal Democrats invested considerably more resources into theirs they began to pull ahead in the polls, with predictions before the by-election putting the Lib Dems and Conservatives neck and neck. Disaffected Conservative votes combined with tactical Labour voters resulted in a massive swing of 34% for the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems received a total of 17,957 votes, while the Conservatives received 12,032. Labour received 3,686 votes.
The Liberal Democrat victor of the by-election, Helen Morgan, said:
“The people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people. They have said loudly and clearly, ‘Boris Johnson, the party is over.'”
Some voters in the constituency had voiced annoyance before the election regarding the Conservative candidate choice, Neil Shastri-Hurst, due to him not living in North-Shropshire but in Birmingham.
Regarding the by-election, Shastri-Hurst said that “clearly it was a disappointing result”, but that he was “proud of the campaign he had run”.
The by-election victory brings the number of seats held by the Liberal Democrats up to 13.