North Shropshire: It wasn’t too good to be true after all!

A few minutes ago, I had that very satisfying feeling of adding Helen Morgan to my Twitter lists of Lib Dem MPs and Lib Dem Parliamentarians. A wee thing, but an immensely satisfying moment.

I am not at my best at the moment. It turns out that I’m not as good as I used to be at this staying up till 4:40 am then doing a day’s work malarkey. But I can’t stop smiling. This has been a very good day.

And that bursting of the Boris bubble made me smile. I enjoyed it much more than the Blue Wall bashing from June.

Exactly 6 months ago, hundreds of Lib Dems were wandering around Chesham and Amersham on a Summer’s evening trying to turn people out to vote. I was taking part in the phone knock-up. In a few hours’ time, we would welcome Sarah Green as our 12th MP. Even in our moment of glory after that, if you had told us that within 6 months, we’d be welcoming Helen Morgan as our 13th after winning North Shropshire, we’d have laughed.

When Owen Paterson announced his resignation on 4th November, the party had some decisions to take about how to approach this by-election. Within two days, we had leafletted half the constituency with a very clear message setting out that we were the challengers. Establishing yourself in that position is key. We knew that the local party was totally up for a fight and that was a key part of the decision to start looking for kitchen sinks.

Everything around this campaign seemed charmed in some way, almost too good to be true. I mean the Tories selecting a barrister from Birmingham who had to take a week off to learn about the constituency. And he hadn’t quite nailed it as yesterday as his Twitter poster showed him in Shrewsbury which is not in the constituency.

Our press team did some amazing work, persuading the Guardian to recommend that Labour voters backed the Lib Dems, and doing it far enough out to make a difference.

Helen came across as warm, competent and passionate about the area. She showed when Storm Arwen hit that she was already acting like an MP. I cannot wait to see her in the Commons.

What was absolutely amazing was the way the whole Party got behind the campaign. Hundreds of people went to North Shropshire from as far apart as Caithness, Kent and Cornwall. And those of us who couldn’t travel phoned and phoned. I have to say I felt a bit guilty yesterday sitting on my sofa hosting the Maraphone while people were out in the cold and dark doing good mornings and knocking up. I was very conscious that every single person who travelled to North Shropshire for polling day risked being pinged or catching Covid and having that ruin Christmas. The party owes its members a massive debt of gratitude for dropping everything and immersing themselves in the campaign.

Let’s not forget the news stories that unfolded during the campaign. The headlines went from sleaze to Peppa Pig to a Prime Minister that had lost his authority amongst his own MPs. But it was the steady drip feed of news about last year’s Christmas parties in government offices which really did for the Tories. Our canvassers heard stories from voters about how they weren’t able to see dying relatives while those in government could do pretty much what they liked. And they were livid.

I have been in politics for a long time and I’ve only rarely experienced such overwhelmingly positive reaction from voters. And that was reflected on the ground too as some of the most hardened cynics I know were saying two weeks ago that this was game on.

It just felt like it was too good to be true sometimes and I was worried, especially in the hours after the count, that we might be disappointed. But then the mood changed and Christine Jardine in her sunny yellow jacket telling the world that we had won big had us punching the air. Or something.

It is amazing that Helen Morgan’s majority is more than the vote she got in 2019.

She, the party and its members did not put a foot wrong during the campaign. In politics we don’t always get the result we deserve. But we did last night.

I’m sure you will forgive us if we savour this moment for a few more days.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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15 Comments

  • Stunning, history-making stuff.

    Congratulations to all involved. You have made our Christmases.

  • William Wallace 18th Dec '21 - 11:30am

    Over the past 3 general elections I have been impressed by the quality of so many young women candidates in seats across the north: impressive men, too, but the rise in the proportion of women is welcome. These two by-elections have shown that we have impressive and confident women candidates across southern England, in seats that we had not thought were winnable as well as in many that we thought we might capture. That’s really good news for our party’s future, and more immediately for our prospects in the next general election. I could tell many stories about the mixed quality of our (mostly male) candidates 30-40 years ago; if the overall quality of our candidates now is up to the standard of Sarah Green and Helen Morgan, we are a far stronger party.

  • Chris Moore 18th Dec '21 - 3:12pm

    There are also some strong candidates with working class backgrounds coming through: Carshalton and Wallington and Josh Babarinde in Eastbourne.

    We need that breadth of experience.

  • Paul Barker 18th Dec '21 - 3:52pm

    And in other News we are currently Polling around 10%. There are no Polls taken after The By-election yet, maybe tonight.

  • We celebrate, but how to maintain the momentum.
    The world has changed since October, Sleaze, corruption, probable war in the Ukraine, soaring inflation, general government incompetence, the PM, we, Labour and the Greens should be fighting Southend West. I would suspect that if we opinion polled 100 voters the majority would agree and would want the choice.

  • Jason Connor 19th Dec '21 - 11:12am

    I don’t think so. David Amess was highly regarded in Southend West and was a decent honest politician. Even my local labour MP has said as such. I feel it would be highly disrespectful to the electorate for opposition parties to stand there in view of the circumstances of David Amess’ death. That’s why all three have decided not to do so. The same rationale should apply in the same circumstances to a Labour or Lib Dem MP or any other party for that matter.

  • By the time the by election takes place almost 4 months will have elapsed since the assassination, (a week is a long time in politics). Certainly the world has changed since then.
    I reckon, I may be wrong, but if you canvassed an opinion in the seat, probably a majority
    would prefer what I have called, “A proper election” so that a proper choice can be made.

  • Andy Boddington 19th Dec '21 - 12:52pm

    With respect @theakes, the death of Jo Cox created a tectonic shift in public opinion. Whatever the circumstances of the murder of an MP, and there regrettably have been murders, the public mood would not tolerate a contest C&A or North Shropshire style. We can’t dance on graves or take advantage of terrible events. We can’t allow madmen to write their own “democracy” by killing MPs. The decision not to stand by Labour and the Lib Dems is the right one and will earn both parties respect.

  • Jason Connor 19th Dec '21 - 4:48pm

    I totally agree with Andy, the thought of other democratic parties standing in Southend West fills me with horror in view of the circumstances of David Amess’ death. Time after the event is irrelevant here as was the case with Jo Cox. It would send out totally the wrong message for other parties to stand. I am glad that Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems have taken a principled position on this issue.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Dec '21 - 1:54pm

    This victory again shows how we can capitalise on discontent with the incumbent’s party by fielding a credible candidate and campaigning effectively. As with the Amersham result, we showed that the electorate is willing to change its views to reflect the country’s feeling of the way our country is going. By-elections are a safety valve in an unfair and outdated parliamentary system though cannot be guaranteed to occur when needed.

  • Steve Comer 20th Dec '21 - 5:53pm

    There have been many comments about whether the decision to stand down in Southend West (after being ‘bounced’ by Starmer) is right or not. But nobody has been able to tell me what has changed from the murders of Anthony Berry and Ian Gow in the ’80s and ’90s to the murders of Jo Cox and David Amess in the 2010s to merit a change in policy?
    And it is worth reading this account of the 1990 Eastbourne by-election, and particularly the discussion then about whether to stand:
    https://tidesofhistory.com/2020/10/14/end-of-an-era-a-political-earthquake-in-sussex-by-the-sea/?fbclid=IwAR3AAluRN_0Eq4mGAr-Dx-QzT2Qy76E34dNUvEhrFEtTsh_Ukp4AlgLsvE8

  • nvelope2003 24th Dec '21 - 1:06pm

    Other parties are contesting the Southend West by-election so why not the Liberal Democrats ?

  • Alex Macfie 24th Dec '21 - 5:18pm

    @Steve Comer: thank for that link. Eastbourne 1990 and Enfield Southgate 1984 were fully contested affairs based on the principle that doing things differently because of terrorism would be to give in to the terrorists, and we fight attacks on democracy with more democracy, not less. it is clearly impossible to reconcile this with giving the incumbent party a clear run in Batley & Spen 1996 and Southend West 2022. My view is that we were right to stand in Eastbourne and are taking the wrong approach now. I don’t think we’d have any chance of winning Southend West if we did stand. Electorally it’s a different terrain from North Shropshire, far more unrepentantly Brexity and full of Red Tory/UKIP and Blue Labour voters. Labour would have a slightly better chance. UKIP is reportedly standing, and I think it has a very strong chance of winning, by characterising the contest as an “establishment stitch-up”, especially as the Tory candidate is not local.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Dec '21 - 5:40pm

    Regardless of who does win Southend West, here are some reasons why it should be a normal contested by-election:

    Voters don’t generally look back to the event that caused a by-election, but instead cast their votes based on whatever political issues are current during the campaign. Why should they be denied a meaningful choice because of the particular circumstances of this by-election?
    Similarly, hardly anyone gives any thought as to whether a party contested this or that by-election in the past. Attacks on the Lib Dems for contesting and winning Eastbourne fell flat. It’s the sort of thing that only the Westminster bubble care about, but ordinary voters do not.
    The assassin almost certainly doesn’t care who replaced his victim as MP. In the case of Eastbourne, the replacement would almost certainly have been someone who was anti-IRA, this being the position of all three main parties. The murderers of Jo Cox and David Amess are radical extremists opposed to democracy itself. Whoever won the resulting by-elections would almost certainly have been part of the system they so despise.
    By all accounts, David Amess was very popular personally. This means that many people would have been voting for him because of who he was personally, not his party affiliation, and would be less not more likely to vote for someone who just happens to share the same party label as him. So the case for a coronation of some party cipher is actually weakened.
    A candidate list comprising one “approved successor” candidate and a ragtag of racist rabble-rousers is not a good advertisement for democracy. It is likely to cause mass abstention. (If I were a voter there, I would stay at home unless there were someone standing who shared some of my political values, which rules out Tory, UKIP or the far-right people.)
    Standing aside this way raises the possibility of “false flag” assassinations by party hitmen seeking to remove a problematic MP and install an obedient party placeman. This sounds rather far-fetched, youmjight say, but then so does the idea of murdering a representative in order to flip their constituency. It’s the sort of thing that happens in political thriller fiction, not real-life politics.

  • nvelope2003 25th Dec '21 - 6:38pm

    Maybe the Labour Party were worried about coming below the Liberal Democrats in the polling as happened at Amersham and Chesham and now at N. Shropshire. I was as appalled as anyone by the murder of Sir David Amess but the voters must be able to choose his successor unless Parliament votes to change the rules governing elections. I guess it might be difficult to stand a candidate now having said we would not do so but this must not be regarded as a precedent, although we all hope that the circumstances will not arise again.

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