Lib Dems claim party set to ‘win comfortably’ in North Shropshire by-election

Lib Dem spokesperson told reporters she was “confident” the yellows had “won comfortably”

Colin Drury,Katy Clifton
Friday 17 December 2021 02:23
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The Liberal Democrats have won the North Shropshire by-election, the party’s treasury spokesperson has claimed.

Christine Jardine told reporters she was “confident” the yellows had “won comfortably”.

A party spokesman added: “This is an amazing night for the Liberal Democrats and a disaster for Boris Johnson.”

Ms Jardine hinted that the scale of candidate Helen Morgan’s win over Conservative Neil Shastri-Hurst would be in the thousands.

If confirmed, it would be one of the most astonishing electoral result ever: the Conservatives had a 23,000 majority going into this contest and had held the area for more than a century.

The Edinburgh West MP added: “I don’t want to put a figure on it just now but we are just delighted that we’ve listened to the voters in North Shropshire and those voters are putting their confidence in us.

“People who are fed up, people who are tired and who are angry at the way this Government has behaved know now that they have an alternative. Conservative MPs right across those ‘Blue Wall’ seats will be looking over their shoulders.

“The Conservatives had a majority… Owen Paterson had a majority of more than 20,000. We’ve turned that round tonight – turned it round comfortably. That’s astonishing. We think we’ve won and won comfortably.”

The turnout was 46.3 per cent, or 38,110 voters. That’s considerably up on the 33.5 per cent that turned up for the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election earlier this month. However, it is significantly lower than the 2019 general election turnout in the constituency of 62.9 per cent.

The candidates – and senior Tories – will not learn the definitive result until it is announced in the early hours of Friday.

Not only was the vote triggered by a Tory sleaze scandal, it comes after the prime minister was battered by allegations of lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street last Christmas. In a message to Mr Johnson this morning, Ms Jardine said: “The party is over.”

And the prime minister’s efforts to defend the seat followed the massive rebellion Conservative backbenchers dealt him on Tuesday over his new coronavirus restrictions as the Omicron variant surged.

Mr Paterson represented the constituency for 24 years until his resignation after Mr Johnson’s botched attempt to shield him from a 30-day suspension. The prime minister attempted to force a Tory-led review of the rules for MPs after Mr Paterson was found to have breached lobbying rules for two companies paying him £100,000 a year.

Multiple fresh allegations of sleaze were levelled at the Tories during the row and ultimately the MP was forced to resign, saying he wanted to escape the “cruel world of politics”.

North Shropshire has returned a Tory MP in every vote since 1983, which was the constituency’s first election in its current form. But the area has been true blue, only twice voting for another colour, since the Conservative Party’s inception in 1830.

So a loss for Conservative candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst to Lib Dem Helen Morgan would be a major upset for the Tories.

Bookmakers have put the Lib Dems as favourite for victory, while campaigners on the ground suggested the result was too close to call and leader Sir Ed Davey described it as a “coin toss”.

Defeat would compound a torrid period for Mr Johnson after 100 Conservatives defied the leadership to vote against the introduction of mandatory Covid health passes for entry to large venues – the biggest rebellion since he entered No 10.

Asked on Wednesday if Mr Johnson would quit if North Shropshire falls, the Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “We are fighting for every vote.”

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