Boris Johnson’s bid to give his party an electoral boost ahead of a key by-election in North Shropshire hit a low note on Friday when he got the name of the Tory candidate wrong.
On a whistle-stop visit to Oswestry, the Prime Minister described Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst as a “fantastic” candidate, but failed to recall the name of the Conservative Party hopeful correctly.
“I think we’ve got a fantastic candidate, Dr Neil Shastri-Hughes, who I’ve just been seen contributing already to the life of the community by vaccinating people, he’s a doctor amongst his many other talents and what he’s also going to do is work very, very hard for the people of North Shropshire,” Mr Johnson said.
“I used to live in this constituency, I used to come shopping in Oswestry, so I know it a bit.
“And he’s got all the issues, he understands what needs to be done, to support the NHS to get investment into our hospitals here but also make sure we do things like, duelling the A5, looking at the Oswestry to Gobowen railway line, other projects like that, I think he’s a fantastic candidate.”
The Prime Minister later referred to the candidate as “Dr Neil” after he watched the medic give vaccinations to members of the public at a pharmacy in Oswestry. The candidate is a former British Army medical officer and honorary NHS consultant who now works as a barrister.
The by-election was triggered to replace Owen Paterson after the Standards Committee recommended the former Conservative minister should be suspended from Parliament for 30 days over an “egregious” breach of a ban on paid lobbying by MPs. After a botched Government bid to delay the suspension while also overhauling the standards system, Mr Paterson announced his resignation as MP for the constituency following a Government U-turn.
North Shropshire is considered to be an ultra-safe rural constituency for the Tories, with Mr Paterson having held it since 1997.
At the 2019 general election, Mr Paterson won almost 63 per cent of the vote and beat Labour by nearly 23,000 votes, with the Lib Dems coming third.
However, the by-election comes after the Tories’ majority in the Old Bexley and Sidcup seat was slashed from almost 19,000 to just 4,478 on Friday.
Louie French, the Tory candidate, won the by-election with a 51.4 per cent share of the vote, compared with Labour’s 30.8 per cent. The by-election in south-east London was triggered by the death of the former minister James Brokenshire.