politics

Boris Johnson under pressure on Shropshire by-election as Lib Dems talk up chances


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The Liberal Democrats believe they can overturn the huge Tory majority in a contest sparked by Owen Paterson’s resignation over a sleaze row – but an expert has his doubts

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference about Covid-19
Prime Minister Boris Johnson could face a tough test in next week’s by-election

Lib Dems are increasingly confident they can pull off another shock by-election result and deal a fresh blow to Boris Johnson’s authority.

Party chief executive Mike Dixon has told members “something special is happening in North Shropshire” in the run-up to the December 16 ballot triggered by Owen Paterson’s resignation amid a sleaze row.

He had been the MP for 24 years and the seat is a Conservative stronghold.

In an email to supporters, seen by the Mirror, Mr Dixon claims: “We could pull off something huge here.”

Insiders believe the Lib Dems could repeat the feat of June’s Chesham & Amersham by-election, where they overturned a 16,223 Tory majority and won by 8,028 votes.







Owen Paterson held the seat for 24 years
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But the challenge is even greater in North Shropshire, where the Tories wield a 22,949 majority.

Labour came second in the 2019 election, with the Lib Dems trailing by 6,852 votes.

But the Lib Dems came second in this May’s local poll in the county.

A party source said: “There is an even steeper mountain to climb than Chesham & Amersham but support and momentum is growing rapidly.

“We are now seeing the levels of discontent with the Conservatives we saw in Chesham & Amersham so there is a chance we could pull this off.







The Lib Dems pulled off a shock victory in Buckinghamshire in June
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“The Tories are hemorrhaging support – our data shows they have lost at least 15% of their share of the vote.

“This is definitely looking like it will be a close contest. Let’s be absolutely clear, when you’ve got the Conservatives this worried about a seat they have such a huge majority in, you know they are in trouble.”

The Conservatives have picked a Birmingham-based candidate, Neil Shastri-Hunt, who gave an address in Birmingham on the official polling card for the vote.

Lib Dem figures hope Labour and Green supporters will switch to the Lib Dems in a bid to oust the Tories.







Voters go to the polls on Thursday, December 16
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Internal documents show the party believes the PM has switched from being a “significant” electoral Tory “asset” to a “liability”.

It cites sleaze allegations which have dogged the Conservatives for months, along with the fallout from Mr Johnson’s “Peppa Pig” speech to business leaders.

Voters are raising the issues on the doorstep, according to Lib Dems.

The rural constituency is also home to farming communities, with many upset about post-Brexit plans for the industry – even if they backed leaving the EU.

Shropshire voted by 56.9% to 43.1% to quit the bloc.







Brexit divided the nation – and is a key difference between the North Shropshire and Chesham & Amersham polls
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However, that is a key difference between this by-election and the Chesham & Amersham contest.

The Chilterns, which includes the Buckinghamshire seat, voted by 55% to 45% to stay in the EU.

Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice told the Mirror: “Sure the Tory vote collapsed in Chesham and Amersham but Chesham and Amersham was a pro-Remain constituency in which the Tory vote was already in long term decline.

“North Shropshire is also a 60% Leave vote and the Liberal Democrats are trying to come from third place.

“I know they’ll tell us that they were second place in the local elections and apparently there’s an understanding that the Labour Party aren’t trying too hard.






John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University

“But it’s still a very substantial challenge in what is a safe Tory seat and it’s not a part of England where there’s previously been much of a flicker of life in the Liberal Democrats.”

But Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan insisted: “The Liberal Democrats are the clear challengers to the Conservatives in North Shropshire.

“Traditional Conservatives across towns and villages are telling us they are fed up with the Government and want to send a message.”





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