The Conservatives 22,949 majority in North Shropshire has been overturned after Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan swept to victory with 17,957 votes in yesterday’s by-election.
Ms Morgan previously finished third as the seat’s candidate in the 2019 general election.
This a major blow for the Tories in a seat they have more or less held for two centuries.
Ms Morgan is an staunch Remainer who in August 2019 compared Boris Johnson to Hitler in during a pro-EU rally, while her new constituency voted 60% in favour of Leave at the 2016 EU Referendum.
The 34% swing away from the governing party represents the largest such swing in a defensive by-election since Clacton went swung 59.7% to UKIP in 2014 when the seat’s Tory MP Douglas Carswell defected to the Eurosceptic party and subsequently sought re-election. It is the third-biggest swing against the Conservatives in a by-election since 1945, beaten only by Clacton and the 35.4% swing to the Lib Dems’ in their 1993 win in Christchurch.
It also comes after Lib Dem Sarah Green was elected the MP for Chesham and Amersham in June 2021 with a majority of over 8,000. She overturned the 16,000 majority of long-sitting Tory MP Cheryl Gillan passed away this April.
Yesterday’s by-election, which followed days of crisis over a mammoth backbench rebellion on Plan B restrictions, and suggestions that scores of senior government figures breached lockdown last Chritsmas, was itself sparked by scandal.
Last month the seat’s then-MP Owen Paterson, who has served as the constituency’s Conservative MP since 1997 since 1997, resigned.
This followed an intense 48 hours in Westminster after Conservative whips told MPs to vote against Paterson’s recommended 30-day suspension from the Commons after he was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying guidelines by parliament’s standards commissioner, but subsequently U-turned on the issue.
Labour campaigned minimally in the seat, allowing the Lib Dems to capitalise on more anti-Tory votes.
In the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election earlier this month where Labour polled higher, the Lib Dems pursued the same strategy, with their vote share consequently falling by five points leading to them losing their deposit.
Yesterday’s turnout of 46.3% in North Shropshire also represents a major dip compared to the 67.9% of the seat’s voters who went to the polls in 2019, suggesting that many former Conservative voters stayed at home.
Sir Roger Gale, who has served as the Conservative MP for North Thanet since 1983, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the Conservatives failed to hold onto the seat “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.”
The Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey also spoke with the programme this morning, claiming that voters had “moved on” from Brexit.
“I went five times to North Shropshire, I had 10 days’ canvassing, and people were really clear, it was the health service, it was the rising cost of living. These are people who’ve played by the rules, who used to vote Conservative.”
“I talked after our Chesham and Amersham victory about the Blue Wall.
“This is another type of Blue Wall seat, the Tory heartlands falling to the Liberal Democrats as we campaign on the issues that matter to the local community,” he went on.
North Shropshire results in full:
1. Helen Morgan (LD) 17,957 (47.22%)
2. Neil Shastri-Hurst (Cons) 12,032 (31.64%)
3. Ben Wood (Lab) 3,686 (9.69%)
4. Duncan Kerr (Green) 1,738 (4.57%)
5. Kirsty Walmsley (Reform) 1,427 (3.75%)
6. Andrea Allen (UKIP) 378 (0.99%)
7. Martin Daubney (Reclaim) 375 (0.99%)
8. Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 118 (0.31%)
9. Suzie Akers Smith (Ind) 95 (0.25%)
10. James Elliot (Heritage) 79 (0.21%)
11. Boris Been-Bunged (Rejoin) 58 (0.15%)
12. Earl Jesse (FA) 57 (0.15%)
13. Russell Dean (PartyParty) 19 (0.05%)
14. Yolande Kenward (ND) 3 (0.01%)