For years now, I have been in regular discussions with my farmer friend who lives in North Shropshire about Brexit, this Government and his MP, Owen Paterson. So, when the news broke that Paterson had been found guilty of breaking the lobbying rules, I excitedly proclaimed, “Exciting, you may get the chance of a recall petition with hopes of a by election” to which my friend replied, “Oh that is the last thing we need right now”. At this time, it seemed unthinkable that the LibDems or anyone else for that matter could dislodge Owen Paterson from this safe seat in North Shropshire.
Events moved quickly as we know and suddenly Boris Johnson, in trying to change the rules to save his own skin, threw Paterson under the bus and the North Shropshire election didn’t need a recall petition and Owen Paterson was history. As a By-election was called, my Shropshire farming friend disclosed, “It looks like LibDems HQ might run it from our farm.”
And indeed, that is exactly what happened. This decision for the LibDems to base their HQ at Soulton Hall began a hugely successful campaign for the Liberal Democrats who didn’t put a foot wrong. This magical and ancient manor house was built by Sir Rowland Hill – an MP from the reign of Henry VIII – who was famous for being a principled politician — “a foe to vice, and a vehement corrector” — who fought corruption. Every LibDems activist who visited shared photos on social media of their energised experience at this special place. This motivated more to join in the fight to bring change to North Shropshire, as did the welcome given to canvassers as they knocked on doors and soaked up the feelings of voters.
So much has unfolded since Boris bungled his attempt to rewrite the rules; his disastrous Peppa Pig farcical speech and the continual leaks of illegal parties in Downing Street whilst we were all under strict lockdowns. Added to this, only a few days ago, we saw the Trade Minister, Penny Mordaunt, give a speech to the Americans begging for a trade deal and prostituting Britain by offering up our agricultural market to the aggressive USA agri-lobby. Do the Government really believe that farmers and rural folk don’t read the newspapers or watch what is happening?
LibDems candidate Helen Morgan’s campaign was swift and efficient, together with loads of empathy. She highlighted local issues such as ambulance response times and farmers’ frustrations with the Australia and New Zealand trade deals.
But what struck me when I canvassed in North Shropshire was that people all had a shared view of being taken advantage of. And this is so familiar to those of us who live in similar rural safe Tory seats. The Tory MPs haven’t needed to fight for their votes – it was always a given that Tory voters would turn out and vote the same way.
Well you know what … that didn’t happen this time. North Shropshire has caused an earthquake although the Tories will try and downplay it. You cannot lie to win power and deliver the opposite of what you promised and destroy the communities that have been your loyal voters for centuries.
There is no doubt in my mind that every safe Tory seat is now up for grabs.
Ed: Of course this historic victory was on the patch of our sister publication, Central Bylines, who ran this article saying “Boris is Toast“.