Helen Morgan says the Lib Dems are on the up in North Shropshire

Yesterday, the Lib Dems announced that Helen Morgan has been selected as our candidate for North Shropshire. This morning BBC Radio Shropshire broadcast an interview recorded with her in Wem yesterday.

Helen told Joanne Gallagher, the station’s political reporter, that the Lib Dems have already knocked around 1,000 doors. Problems with the NHS in Shropshire, where there are difficulties in getting GP appointments and people are sometimes waiting for several hours for an ambulance, are top of Helen’s agenda. The bad deal we got out of Brexit and the bureaucracy created are significant issues for farmers and small businesses. A referendum on rejoining the EU is not on the horizon. The trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand are adding to the pressures for farmers who will be undercut by meat and dairy produced to lower standards. The current political maelstrom about MP’s standards doesn’t feature strongly, despite the by-election being called after Owen Paterson resigned after being accused of lobbying for food companies who paid him £100,000 a year.

Can we win? Helen is clear we can: “The Lib Dems are on the up in North Shropshire.”

Helen Morgan: “I love it here and can’t wait to get stuck into the issues people have told me they are really concerned about…. We have already knocked on about a thousand doors. The thing that has come across really strongly is the NHS. Lots of people are very concerned that they can’t get a GP appointment because there are not enough GPs. And about the knock on impact on A&E and ambulance wait times… Ambulance wait times are very much at the top of people’s minds.”

Joanne Gallagher: “What can you do as a Lib Dem MP when it’s a Conservative government.”

Helen Morgan: “We proved in Chesham and Amersham that… a change of MP can send a really strong message. In Chesham and Amersham, the issue was around planning laws and a lot of local people were very worried about concreting over the Green Belt. The outcome of that is that the Conservative’s have rolled back on their planning reform changes. Sending a very clear message that if you are not happy, choosing an MP that is going to fight your corner can really make a difference.”

Joanne Gallagher: “So for you, you think this is going to be all about the NHS.”

Helen Morgan: “There are two things. The NHS is obviously at the top of people’s minds. The other thing that has really come up is that our local farming community feel really sold out by the trade deals with Australia and New Zealand where their farmers are now going to able to be undercut our local industry. That’s the other issue that is really key for us.”

Joanne Gallagher: “You are a pro-European party. Brexit had a big vote here in North Shropshire. People voted to leave. How is that going to play out?”

Helen Morgan: “When we talk to people on the doorstep, they are focused on things that are relevant now. They feel a bit let down by this botched Brexit deal and the enormous quantities of red tape they face when trading with Europe, farmers and other small businesses. I don’t think people are particularly focused on a debate that has happened. That’s in the past. We need to accept the result and focus on the issues in front of us.”

Joanne Gallagher: “So you are willing to accept the result and put up with what we have now.”

Helen Morgan: “We believe we need to have a much closer relationship with Europe so that we can get our imports and exports and our businesses thriving. The current Brexit deal doesn’t achieve that. We are going to hold the government to account on that. But there is a reality that we are not going to push for a referendum in the next three or four years.”

Joanne Gallagher: “Have you been speaking to farmers and people in the agricultural industry as part of your campaign?”

Helen Morgan: “Yes, we have. What comes across very strongly is disappointment with these trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. [There is] concern that lamb and beef and dairy products [that] are raised with lower animal welfare and low environmental standards than we have here will be able to come in and undercut our farmers”

Joanne Gallagher: “This by-election is happening because the former MP Owen Paterson had to resign. How much is the topic of sleaze and the issue of his resignation coming up?”

Helen Morgan: “It’s coming up a little bit. I think voters here feel really taken for granted. The botched attempt to change the rules and override standards by the Conservatives last week have made people very angry. They feel as they are being taken for granted. If they have an MP whose reputation has been damaged by corruption… It is an issue. But they are much more focused on getting things to improve going forward.”

Joanne Gallagher: Realistically Helen, what are the chances of a Liberal Democrat win here? It is one of the safest in England for the Conservatives. Owen Paterson had a huge majority. Well over 20,000. You came third in the general election. Labour came second. Haven’t you got an uphill battle here?”

Helen Morgan: “We are the only party on the up in North Shropshire. We doubled our vote in the general election. We doubled it again in the local election [May 2021]. We came a really close second there [in North Shropshire wards]. When we have knocked on doors people are really ready to say, we have been taken for granted and want an alternative. I think nationally in the Conservative heartlands, the Lib Dems are seen as the challenger to the Conservatives and Labour. I think we really can win here.”

Joanne Gallagher: “It is going to be a big battle, isn’t it? Owen Paterson had over 30,000 votes in the last general election and you had over five.”

Helen Morgan: “You can get these really big swings in by-elections. We had a 25% swing in Chesham and Amersham. In the local elections, Rob Wilson had a 34% swing to topple the council leader, so we can definitely make those numbers happen.”

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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  • What comes across very strongly is disappointment with these trade deals with Australia and New Zealand.

    Both trade deals are important steps to joining the Cooperative and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which should open up large and expanding markets for UK food exports.

    New Zealand lamb is widely regarded as high quality. Welfare and environmental standards are high. It accounts for the majority of UK imports of sheep meat. In recent years, New Zealand lamb exports have used less than half their current UK tariff-free quota. So the additional quota agreed in the trade deal is moot; they could already sell us twice as much lamb tariff-free. New Zealand farmers are unsubsidised and now have other markets, such as China, so represent little threat to UK farmers.

    ‘NZ lamb imports to UK at historic low’ [December 2020]:

    The total amount imported to the UK has halved in the last seven years. […]

    NZ exports to the UK have been in steady decline since 2016, partly on the back of a smaller sheep flock, as more farmers moved into dairy. […]

    At peak season, the UK depends on exports to keep supply and demand in balance, and fills the gap out of season with imports, traditionally from NZ.

    By far the most competition for UK farmers comes from EU farmers who are heavily subsidised, operate with the same seasonality, and under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) have full tariff and quota free access to the UK market. EU biosecurity standards are now lower than the UK…

    ‘EU to lift its ban on feeding animal remains to domestic livestock’ [June 2021]:

    The use of processed animal protein (PAP) from mammals in the feed of cattle and sheep was banned by the EU in 1994 as the full horrors of BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, emerged. […]

    The UK continues to ban the use of PAP in the feed of farm animals. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK is committed to maintaining the highest animal welfare and biosecurity standards, and following our departure from the EU there is no legal obligation for us to implement any of these changes.

  • Lee Thacker 17th Nov '21 - 8:16pm

    Apparently we were second in the North Shropshire constituency in the 2021 Shropshire county council elections.

    Has anyone got the exact figures for all parties? Did we have a candidate in every ward?

  • Andrew McCaig 17th Nov '21 - 8:25pm

    Why should we be trying to increase trade with the most distant part of the world from the UK??

    I have been trying to buy food as little travelled as possible for decades.

  • Tristan Ward 17th Nov '21 - 8:40pm


    How do you think importing food from the otherside of the world compared with food from Shropshire, Kent (my county) or for that matter the EU is going to help cut Britain’s CO2 emissions?

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '21 - 1:26am

    “we need to have a much closer relationship with Europe so that we can get our imports and exports and our businesses thriving. The current Brexit deal doesn’t achieve that. ”

    I run a small electronics business and we import and export all over the world. Importing from anywhere in the world isn’t a problem. Exporting to most places isn’t a problem either. It’s particularly easy to the USA, Canada and Australia. But it’s straightforward enough even to Russia, many places in Africa and South America. We don’t have any FTA or “closer relationship” than usual with any of these countries.

    So why is exporting to some EU countries such a problem? Just today we had a consignment rejected by Spanish customs for no apparent reason. We had a shipment returned from France not too long ago because we hadn’t used block capitals on part of the customs declaration form. Other EU countries haven’t been too much of a problem to be fair to them.

    We are supposed to have a FTA agreement with the EU but I can’t see the point. I’d settle for what we have with the USA and with no agreement or “closer relationship” at all. A USA customer places an order. We send them what they ask for, they pay our invoice plus whatever taxes are imposed by US customs, and everyone is happy. We don’t have the same petty and churlish attitude that we get from Spanish and French customs from anywhere else in the world.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Nov '21 - 8:23am

    I’m also concerned about food miles.

    And what about food security? Shouldn’t we be producing more of our food in the UK?

  • Christopher Moore 18th Nov '21 - 9:25am

    Peter, I can see you are gradually coming round to the view that exiting the Customs’ Union was a mistake.

    When we were in, not only we were not subject to the whims of petty-minded customs officials in France and Spain, but there was less red tape in general.

    You may be interested to know that many exporters here in northern Spain are complaining bitterly about the new pettifogging restrictions on exporting to the UK.

    Given that it’s a lose-lose situation, I agree with you that going back into the Customs’ Union would make sense.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Nov '21 - 9:39am

    Food miles is a bit of a distraction. The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from moving frozen lamb in a container on a giant container ship is tiny compared with the GHG emissions from producing the meat in the first place. Food miles where something moves by air do matter – it uses more fuel for the extra weight. Just eat less beef and lamb, grass fed for preference.

  • Barry Lofty 18th Nov '21 - 9:52am

    Jeff: In my understanding the EU lifted its ban on farmers using PAP! to feed animals because of the worry that importers were not obliged to follow the same restrictions therefore having a more competitive edge, maybe that is the same worry that British farmers fear when new?? trade deals are setup? That is not a defence of the practice but is a totally understandable business concern.

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '21 - 12:44pm

    @ Christopher Moore,

    Sure, there was an argument for staying in the Customs Union. But that’s not what we have. My point was that I’d settle for what we have with the USA. No FTA. No customs Union. No Single market. No “closer relationship”. Just plain common sense when it comes to applying the rules. The US customs are easy enough to deal with. I can only ever remember one problem and that was settled quickly by an exchange of emails.

    But that’s probably because the USA doesn’t have any grudge against us!

  • Andy Boddington 18th Nov '21 - 1:15pm

    We are drifting off in this discussion, which is about getting the Lib Dems into the North Shropshire seat, into the technicities of customs, unions and markets. There will be opportunities to discuss anon. Can we keep to the campaign for now?

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