North Shropshire by-election: Humiliation for Boris Johnson as Tories lose to Lib Dems

 North Shropshire by-election: Humiliation for Boris Johnson as Tories lose to Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have pulled off an extraordinary victory in North Shropshire by taking the Tory seat in the by-election for the first time in 200 years.

In a shock result, the Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan secured 17,957 votes, leaving the Conservative Neil Shastri-Hurst with 12,032, and giving the Lib Dems a majority of 5,925 after a massive swing of 34 per cent.

The by-election was called after Owen Paterson resigned following sleaze allegations after he was found to have broken lobbying rules for taking around half a million pounds from two companies and seeking to influence government policy.

The North Shropshire seat has returned a Conservative MP since 1830. It will prove a humiliating defeat for the Tories and will be regarded by many as a referendum on Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Mr Paterson had represented the constituency since 1997 and held it in 2019 with a majority of  22,949 with 62.7 per cent of the vote. Labour came second with 22.1 per cent of the vote and the Lib Dems had just 10 per cent of the vote. When Ms Morgan, a chartered accountant, ran for the seat in 2019 she came third.

The constituency also voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, at odds with the Lib Dems who became synonymous with the Remain vote.

‘Boris, the party is over’

In her victory speech, Ms Morgan said the Lib Dems were taking on the Tories and winning, stealing thousands of “lifelong Tories” and Labour supporters who were willing to lend their vote to Lib Dems to defeat the Tories.

“Tonight, the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people,” she said. “They have said loudly and clearly: ‘Boris Johnson, the party is over’.”

She accused the Government of running “on lies and bluster”. “In rural Shropshire today – just like in Buckinghamshire in June – we have won the support of people who have always voted Conservative and people who have always opposed them,” she said.

“Thousands of lifelong Conservative voters, dismayed by Boris Johnson’s lack of decency and fed up with being taken for granted. And thousands of lifelong Labour voters, choosing to lend their votes to the candidate who can defeat the Conservatives.”

Ms Morgan accused the Government of creating “a nightly soap opera of calamity and chaos”, as she recognised an NHS in Shropshire that was “teetering on the brink” and a rural economy “in a precarious state”.

She added: “Our country is crying out for leadership. Mr Johnson, you are no leader.”

Ms Morgan added that instead of taking action to help Shropshire’s NHS, Mr Johnson has spent his time “seeking questionable donations to refurbish your flat” and that he had spent time “misleading the nation on how you and your office partied during lockdown” rather than taking action to support Shropshire farmers.

Second success for Lib Dems 

The Lib Dem victory comes after Ed Davey’s party took the Chesham & Amersham constituency from the Tories earlier this year, defeating a 16,000 Conservative majority. Sir Ed, who is isolating at home after testing positive for Covid, posted a video on Twitter of him celebrating, below, before the result was declared.

Sir Ed called the by-election result a “watershed moment” in British politics. “Millions of people are fed up with Boris Johnson and his failure to provide leadership throughout the pandemic and last night the voters of North Shropshire spoke for all of them,” he said. 

“This is the second stunning by-election victory this year for the Liberal Democrats – both in formerly safe Conservative seats.

“From Buckinghamshire to Shropshire, lifelong Conservatives have turned to the Liberal Democrats in their droves and sent a clear message to the Prime Minister that the party is over.”

Christine Jardine, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman who was at the count in Shrewsbury Sports Village, told The Telegraph it was clear “people from Buckingham to North Shropshire, safe Tory areas, are dissatisfied and are looking for alternatives and are coming to us”. “It shows an upward trend,” she said.

Ms Jardine added that the “final straw” for North Shropshire voters “was the shenanigans in Downing Street”, regarding allegations of parties held at Downing Street last Christmas.

“People are concerned about the pandemic, the economy, and those allegations have not gone down well with people who put their faith in this Government,” she said.

Labour was also celebrating the victory, with a source arguing it was a “disaster” for Mr Johnson that shows he is “too weak to lead”.

“Not only has the Prime Minister lost his authority in the House, he’s lost control of his party, and he’s lost the benefit of the doubt with the public,” they said.

PM’s Peppa Pig gaffe cut through with voters

The Conservative candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst spoke of his “disappointment” after losing the election to the Lib Dems. 

Mr Shastri-Hurst told reporters: “Clearly it was a disappointing result”, however he added that the Tories ran “a positive campaign” which he was “proud” of. He said the party would now “sit back and take stock”. 

Pushed on whether he might have won the election if Mr Johnson had not been Prime Minister, he wouldn’t say, only reiterating that he was “proud” of the campaign. 

Earlier this week Lib Dem sources told The Telegraph that Boris Johnson’s recent Peppa Pig gaffe, below, which saw him lose his speech notes and appear to speak at random about the animation at a CBI event, had “cut through on the doorstep”, along with the Conservatives plans to make changes to the subsidy payments of farmers.

Throughout the campaign Sir Ed visited the constituency 10 times, while his party produced eye-catching election leaflets contrasting a picture of a tearful pensioner (“How she spent last Christmas”) with a grinning Boris Johnson against a background of clinking wine glasses (“How Boris spent last Christmas”). The last time Mr Johnson visited the seat was on Dec 3, almost two weeks ago.

‘Referendum’ on Boris Johnson’s leadership

Responding to the result, Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, said that the voters in North Shropshire had given the Tories a “kicking”. 

“Voters in North Shropshire were fed up. I think they wanted to send us a message and I want to say as chairman of the Conservative Party we’ve heard that loud and clear,” he told Sky News. “We need to get on with delivering the job and that’s precisely what we’re doing.”

He insisted nevertheless that the Prime Minister was still an “electoral asset” for the Tories. “Just take the three really big calls we’ve faced. Get Brexit done: he’s delivered on it. We’ve delivered the fastest booster programme in the world twice over and we’ve seen the economy through this terrible period, with unemployment lower than when we entered.”

Yet Sir Roger Gale, the Tory MP, said that the defeat should be seen as a “referendum” on Mr Johnson’s premiership.

Asked why the Tories lost, he told the Today programme: “Because the electorate wanted to send a very clear message to Downing Street that they were dissatisfied with the management of this Government.

“I think this has to be seen as a referendum on the Prime Minister’s performance and I think that the Prime Minister is now in ‘last orders’ time.

“Two strikes already, one earlier this week in the vote in the Commons and now this. One more strike and he’s out.”

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