Lib Dems Vying for Conservative Stronghold North Shropshire in 'Coin Toss' By-Election

© AFP 2022 / PAUL ELLISPedestrians walk past shops in Whitchurch, central England on December 13, 2021, ahead of a by-election in the North Shropshire constituency on Thursday.
Pedestrians walk past shops in Whitchurch, central England on December 13, 2021, ahead of a by-election in the North Shropshire constituency on Thursday. - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.12.2021
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The by-election for the House of Commons constituency of North Shropshire, West Midlands, was triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson. The Tory ex-lawmaker stepped down on 4 November 2021 in the wake of a sleaze scandal after a botched government attempt to save him from Parliamentary suspension over breaking lobbying rules.
The UK Liberal Democrats are attempting to capitalise on the succession of scandals plaguing the Tory party and its leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hoping to tuck a win under their belt in the North Shropshire by-election.
North Shropshire, the third largest constituency by area in the West Midlands region and considered a Conservative safe seat, held by them since 1997, is up for grabs after the resignation of ex-lawmaker Owen Paterson in the wake of the sleaze scandal after he was discovered to have breached Commons’ paid advocacy rules. Amid fresh reports fuelling claims over last year’s unlawful lockdown-breaching Downing Street Christmas parties, the Lib Dems addressed their voters in the constituency on Facebook under the tagline, “Tell them the party’s over.”
Helen Morgan, the party’s candidate hailed a “golden opportunity” to send a message to the Conservative Government that “the people of #NorthShropshire will not be taken granted any longer.” Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, hinted that “the party is over” for Boris Johnson and his Tories.
The post was made on Facebook shortly after a photo taken at Conservative campaign headquarters (CCHQ) last December was published by the Daily Mirror showing guests crammed into a Christmas party last year hosted by the campaign for Shaun Bailey, then the Conservative mayoral candidate for London, at a time when when Tier 2 rules were in force in London.
Screenshot from a video, depicting Shaun Bailey as he comments on the report, made by the London Assembly. - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.12.2021
Ex-London Mayoral Candidate Bailey Resigns as Damning Photos From Lockdown Christmas Party Emerge
The measures had severely restricted any public events due to the raging coronavirus pandemic. Shaun Bailey stepped down from the post of Chairman of the London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee after the damning photos were released.
With news of the gathering coming as Boris Johnson was himself under fire for allegedly allowing a Christmas party to take place on Downing Street in 2020, breaking the restrictions the government had imposed, the Tory Prime Minister’s rating have hit an all-time low.
The Liberal Democrats have been handing out thousands of campaign leaflets over the past few weeks, juxtaposing a picture of a weeping elderly woman against a photo of Boris Johnson in front of a party background, feeding into the scandal.

‘Too Close to Call’

Polls open at 7.00am and close at 10.00pm in the North Shropshire by-election on 16 December, with a result n anticipated in the early hours of Friday morning. A total of 14 candidates are standing, with the Lib Dem candidate, Helen Morgan, earlier tipped by some to become a likely surprise winner on Thursday.
A YouGov poll published earlier showed that the Tory lead had diminished by five points to just one, suggesting that the Paterson sleaze allegations as well as the claims of “boozy” No 10 Christmas parties in violation of COVID rules could have resonated with voters.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gets into an electric vehicle during a meeting with Small Business Saturday entrepreneurs in Downing Street in central London on December 1, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2021
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Other sources insist that that North Shropshire, which had given Owen Paterson a 23,000 majority last time, was “the truest of blue Tory seats”, suggesting that Neil Shastri-Hurst, the Conservative candidate, has returned to the position of odds-on favourite. Earlier, on 4 November, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are said to have discussed the possibility of backing a joint independent "anti-sleaze" candidate in the by-election.
However, Labour, and subsequently the Liberal Democrats, announced that they would be standing their own candidates. The Labour Party’s candidate is Ben Wood.
"We've got a brilliant local candidate in Ben Wood and we've run a focused campaign there, and I think what's clear is that Boris Johnson's incompetence and broken promises is what's coming up repeatedly on the doorstep," a Labour spokesperson was cited as saying.
The spokesperson also denied rumours of a "gentleman's agreement" between Labour and the Lib Dems. According to bookmakers, the Lib Dems are neck and neck with the Tories.
Sky Bet has the Conservatives 4/5 and the Liberal Democrats at 10/11. According to a Lib Dem source cited by i news, the party was “nervous but optimistic.”
“North Shropshire is too close to call,” added the source.
With senior Tory MPs previously warning that a defeat in North Shropshire would further fuel speculations of Boris Johnson likely facing an upcoming leadership challenge, UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio:
“By-elections have historically been used as a protest vote because people know it’s not going to change the outcome of which party governs the country but actually they want to send a message for whatever reason.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “From No 10 to Tory HQ, the slew of rule-breaking revelations show that Boris Johnson has set a very low bar for standards within his party and his presence in Downing Street is eroding public trust. This Thursday, voters in North Shropshire have the chance to tell him the party is over.”
Speaking on the eve of the contest, Ed Davey said:
“Throughout this campaign, lifelong Conservative voters have told us they are switching to the Liberal Democrats because they are tired of being taken for granted by Boris Johnson… This crucial by-election is now a coin toss between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.”
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