The Lib Dem victory in North Shropshire should be a wake-up call to the Tories

The electorate are clearly not happy with the malarkey of the prime minister. If I were a Conservative MP, I would be making sure I wasn’t taken down with him

Jess Phillips
Saturday 18 December 2021 12:16
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<p>Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan delivers a victory speech after the result is declared in the North Shropshire by-election</p>

Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan delivers a victory speech after the result is declared in the North Shropshire by-election

I love the electorate. I don’t always agree with them, but I won’t hold this against them – sometimes I don’t agree with myself by the end of the day. I don’t always like the results that the electorate plump for and I know they can sometimes be influenced by lies and spin. However, I have found that they deserve far more credit that they are often given by political commentators, both professional and amateur.

The result in the North Shropshire by-election was a moment when the electorate once again shone. For weeks before the by-election, I had various people telling me that only a political alliance could get rid of the Tories in North Shropshire, and that Labour activists like me were doing a disservice by daring to stand and campaign.

I have always hated the idea of agreed political pacts, because I think that they are utterly patronising to the electorate, indicating that people are not astute enough to vote tactically by themselves. Nothing says “stitched-up democracy” like a couple of blokes in Westminster picking where people can and cannot stand in parts of the country they know nothing about. Democracy is not a game of tin soldiers.

The electorate are better than that. They sometimes want us to work closer together and they will tell us when they are sick of us not being able to come to a decision. Do I think our electoral system is perfect? No, I don’t.

I think there is a need for reforms in many areas – how candidates are selected, how political parties operate, how lies are spread, and how safety is assumed. I do not for one second think the electorate needs reforming. They are, and always will be, the very best part of my job.

The electorate wanted to send Boris Johnson a message. He literally caused this by-election, in the middle of a surging pandemic. There was absolutely no need for the good people of North Shropshire to have been considering anything more than their holiday plans and their table treatments for the big day.

Boris Johnson’s arrogance in thinking that he could change the rules so that his wealthy mate Owen Paterson could dodge a possible by-election spectacularly backfired. People in the country knew Boris Johnson was a liar before this – they are not idiots. They knew he was posher than them and had a different life, but they were pretty appalled when he tried to tell them that there was literally a different rule for chaps like him and Paterson. This was the beginning of the rot.

For the past few weeks, Boris Johnson has rubbed the noses of people who were giving him a chance, regardless of the obvious flaws, in the dirt. Again and again he has lied to them; again and again he has told them that there is one rule for him, on money for his home, contracts for his mates, parties in his house and lies he can tell. We often suspect people like the prime minister think this of us, but it is rare that they come out so blatantly, waving a flag to show us that we are the little people and they can do what they want.

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There are obviously a lot of people who wish to spin this as a bad result for Labour. Obviously, I would rather the Labour Party had won, but I think the electorate saw that this was unlikely and that switching to the Lib Dems is easier for Tory voters. As someone who has made a career out of understanding Lib Dem voters in my seat up here in the Midlands, Lib Dem voters are far more likely to be conservative with a small c than the Labour-Liberal mash-up that happens more in the southeast.

My Lib Dem voters are far more likely to read the Daily Mail than The Guardian, for example. It is clear that Labour voters lent their votes. I wouldn’t ever tell them to do that, because I think they deserve a good Labour option, and I believe the electorate cannot be told what to do. It is meant to be the other way around.

The electorate have certainly told us what to do this week. They are clearly not happy with the malarkey of the prime minister, and if I were a Conservative MP, I would be making sure I wasn’t taken down with him. Every MP who voted to let Owen Paterson off the hook should take stock over the recess, because to me, what happened in North Shropshire looks very much like the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence

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