Lib Dems ‘going for it’ in hope of repeat by-election upset in Neil Parish’s seat

Tory majority in Tiverton and Honiton similar to that overturned in North Shropshire last year

Liberal Democrats were today rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a by-election in Neil Parish’s Tiverton and Honiton seat, which strategists feel may offer the possibility of a repeat of last year’s stunning victory in North Shropshire.

The east Devon constituency has been Conservative since its creation in 1997, and returned Mr Parish at the last election with an overwhelming majority of more than 24,000, making it on paper one of Boris Johnson’s safest seats in the country.

But North Shropshire’s 23,000 Tory majority was overturned in December on a sensational 37 per cent swing to Lib Dems, following the disgrace of long-serving MP Owen Patterson who quit after a report found him guilty of paid advocacy on behalf of two private companies.

And Lib Dem insiders today said the party will be “going for it” in Tiverton and Honiton, in a bid to repeat the historic upset in the traditional rural Tory heartlands which they describe as the Blue Wall.

No date has yet been set for the by-election triggered by Mr Parish’s resignation, with June or July thought likely months. It will come hot on the heels of another awkward by-election for Mr Johnson, in Wakefield, where Labour will be bidding to snatch back a Red Wall seat after the conviction of Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan for sexual assault on a teenage boy.

As in North Shropshire, Labour took second place in Tiverton and Honiton in the 2019 election, comfortably ahead of Ed Davey’s party in third.

But one Lib Dem source said that the party was hopeful that its tradition of being the main challenger to Tories in the West Country would help it leapfrog into contention in the race to find Mr Parish’s successor.

Lib Dem candidates regularly took second place in the constituency until 2015, missing out on seizing the seat by just 1,653 votes in 1997.

In North Shropshire, Lib Dems campaigned hard on the issue of poor ambulance availability in the constituency, and their hopes of success in Tiverton and Honiton may rest on identifying a local issue of similar resonance.

A party source said: “Right now we are completely focused on the local elections. But the Lib Dems have already shown we can take rural seats off the Conservatives.

“People across the West Country have a strong tradition of voting Liberal Democrat as the main opposition to the Conservatives.

“As we saw in North Shropshire, there is a real backlash against Boris Johnson from rural communities who are fed up of being taken for granted.”

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