Politics

What the Tories' North Shropshire by-election loss means for Boris Johnson

The Liberal Democrats have overturned a 23,000 vote majority to turn the safe Tory seat orange. Here's what it means for Boris Johnson and his party.

North Shropshire

Boris Johnson faces a tricky time after the Conservatives' by-election drubbing in North Shropshire

In the early hour of this morning, Helen Morgan became the new MP for North Shropshire. It’s notable because, for the first time in nearly 200 years, she’s not a member of the Conservative party.

The seat, in theory, was as safe as safe gets, but a 23,000 vote Conservative majority disappeared – replaced by a 5,000 margin for the Liberal Democrats.

Set against a backdrop of sleaze scandals and Downing Street parties, it’s a by-election upset that has everyone talking. This is what it actually means.

Why was there a by-election in North Shropshire?

It all started when former North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson was handed a 30-day suspension for breaking lobbying rules, though this alone did not mean there would be a by-election.

Paterson had been paid by two firms – testing company Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said Paterson had “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companied for whom he was a paid consultant.” Paterson denied he was guilty of this.

It was only when the government launched an attempt to change the rules around lobbying, and amplified the story about one MP into a story about the government trying to rewrite the rules, that the Tory sleaze scandal took hold.

With the Commons due to vote on Paterson’s suspension, Andrea Leadsom tabled an amendment to delay his suspension and set up a new standards committee. This led to accusations that the Conservatives were rewriting the rules to save one of their own.

Faced with a media furore and fury from opposition parties – who said they would not take part in the new standards committee, the government changed tack and decided a vote on Paterson’s suspension would take place after all.

Amid this, Owen Paterson resigned as an MP, triggering a by-election.

What happened in the North Shropshire by-election?

The Liberal Democrats won the seat with 17,957 votes. The Conservatives got 12,032. This gives the Lib Dems an almost 6,000-vote majority.

It represents a complete reversal of fortunes. In 2019, 35,444 people voted Conservative and just 5,643 for the Lib Dems, who finished third. A 22,949-vote Conservative majority evaporated, turning into a 5,925-vote Lib Dem majority.

There was a massively reduced turnout – just 38,022 people turned up to polling booths this time around, compared with 56,513 in 2019.

It’s not the first time this year the Lib Dems have taken a seat off the government. Chesham and Amersham, in Buckinghamshire, went orange in June, but with the Lib Dems rising from second place. That North Shropshire is seen as the part of the Tory heartlands gives the result significance in a national context.

Analysis by Sky News found this is the second biggest swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in a by-election since the war.

What does it mean for Boris, then?

The Lib Dems are, unsurprisingly, delirious. Leader Ed Davey called it a “watershed moment in British politics”. Victorious MP Morgan declared that the “party is over” for Boris Johnson.

But it’s unrest among Tory MPs which is worth paying attention to. Roger Gale, a Tory MP, told the Today programme: “One more strike and he’s out”, adding that Johnson is on “last orders”.

Even party chairman Oliver Dowden admitted “the voters of North Shropshire are fed up and they wanted to give us a kicking.”

The Paterson scandal, promptly followed by weeks of stories about Downing Street parties, ate away at Johnson’s polling numbers in the run up to the by-election.

The government also had to rely on Labour’s votes to pass new Covid measures this week, as 100 Tory MPs rebelled and voted against the government.

This included the entire leadership of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers. All this, compounded by the by-election loss, has set tongues wagging about whether Johnson might face a leadership challenge – just two years after delivering a landslide majority.

Article continues below

Current vacancies...

Search jobs

What is the 1922 Committee?

The 1922 Committee is a group of backbench Conservative MPs chaired by Sir Graham Brady.

It is not after the era they are trying to bring back, or, in fact, the year it was formed. It was established in 1923.

It is key to any threat to Johnson’s leadership as it oversees any vote of no confidence in a Conservative leader.

Currently, 55 Tory MPs must submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, and Brady has indicated that he will accept these letters by email over Christmas.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Marginalised, sceptical and locked out of housing: Why young people didn't vote in the general election
Keir Starmer during the 2024 general election campaign
Democracy

Marginalised, sceptical and locked out of housing: Why young people didn't vote in the general election

What will be in King's Speech? Here's 5 things to look out for – from benefits to conversion therapy
King's speech

What will be in King's Speech? Here's 5 things to look out for – from benefits to conversion therapy

This is the 'most disproportionate parliament in history'. Has the time come for electoral reform?
Electoral reform

This is the 'most disproportionate parliament in history'. Has the time come for electoral reform?

'Pull your finger out': Can Keir Starmer really deliver change for those crying out for it?
Politics

'Pull your finger out': Can Keir Starmer really deliver change for those crying out for it?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives