Time to launch attack on Blue Fields of Shropshire

The BBC and the Telegraph have been today reporting an idea that the opposition political parties could stand aside in the forthcoming North Shropshire by-election in favour of an anti-corruption candidate. It’s the Martin Bell strategy resurrected.

It is easy to see why this idea is attractive. Bell, the “Man in the White Suit”, won the Tatton seat as an anti-corruption independent candidate, with more than 60% of the vote. At the previous election, Neil Hamilton of cash for questions fame, had secured 55% of the vote. It was a dramatic and highly publicised drubbing by Bell. It was a stand against sleaze even if it did not stop sleaze.

Was that a one off? Or a strategy we can repeat in North Shropshire?

I don’t think it could possibly work in North Shropshire. And if we don’t field a Lib Dem candidate, we will undermine the growing strength of Lib Dem activists across Shropshire where we have 14 unitary councillors and are aiming for many more.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Martin Bell has promoted the idea of a unity candidate. Bell was the journalist who stood against Neil Hamilton – the cash for questions MP. He was elected as MP for Tatton, one of the safest Tory seats in the country, from May 1997 to June 2001. Having said he would only stand for one term, unless Hamilton tried to get re-elected, Bell subsequently lost to Eric Pickles in Brentwood and Ongar. Bell says he is too old to stand again.

Much as I respect Martin Bell, he was a man of the moment and a quiet MP. He never seemed in his element in the Commons.

The Conservative majority in the North Shropshire constituency is nearly 23,000. Owen Paterson stepped into the shoes of Tory grandee John Biffen in 1997. He has since increased his vote share from 40 per cent to above 60 per cent. That does not mean the seat is unwinnable. Just challenging.

The potential Labour candidate for the by-election, Graham Curry, told BBC Radio Shropshire this morning he’d love to stand as the unity candidate but would stand aside for another if that was the Labour position. Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary, told Times Radio earlier today: “At the moment, the Labour Party will be running in this by-election.”

Duncan Kerr, hoping to be the Green candidate, also suggested that he would stand aside in a similar situation.

The Lib Dems have yet to declare a position but I am expecting us to field a candidate.

(Since drafting this article, the Lib Dems have confirmed that they cannot support a unity candidate and will field a candidate. North Shropshire Lib Dems are to begin campaigning this weekend.)

If the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens were to stand aside, we would create a progressive alliance without any progressive element. Labour clearly wants the job but we should not surrender all the efforts of the hard working Shropshire Lib Dems to Labour. We don’t have anyone in a white suit or with any other dress style who is coming to the rescue and as Martin Bell showed, that will not lead to the permanent change we need.

In the Shropshire unitary council elections last May, our Lib Dem candidates took 25% of the vote amid the Blue Fields of North Shropshire. That was way behind the Tories who gained 55% but this seat is not unassailable with the right candidate and if we pump sufficient energy in the campaign. When we look at local areas within North Shropshire, we have towns and villages where we are tantalising close to a Lib Dem majority. Building on that will require a Chesham and Amersham level of effort. Surely, we can do that. Lib Dems can gain on national swings but we are hellishly good at by-elections when we concentrate our enthusiasm. And even if we lose, we will have increased local and national campaigning capacity.

We have a bit of time. No-one is likely to want a by-election this side of Christmas. North Shropshire would not ordinarily be a target seat. But it should be a target in this by-election. The Tories have no obvious local candidate to replace Owen Paterson. They are mired in a corruption scandal. And even though a majority in Shropshire voted for Brexit, the consequences of leaving the EU are hitting our rural communities hard.

We have shown in Chesham and Amersham that we can attack the Blue Wall. Now is the time to launch an attack on the Blue Fields.

This views in this article are the personal opinions of Andy Boddington and not those of the Lib Dems in Shropshire.

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

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19 Comments

  • Jason Connor 5th Nov '21 - 5:45pm

    The Lib Dems have confirmed they will be standing a candidate. Some good local issues here for a Social Liberal candidate on sewage polluting rivers and planning. Let’s all get up there.

    https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/owen-paterson-tories-lib-dems-chris-bryant-labour-b964691.html

  • Lloyd Harris 5th Nov '21 - 6:29pm

    If a Leicester East by-election were to happen following the conviction of the Labour MP for harassment, would we stand aside as a unity candidate to allow the Conservatives a free run – especially if Keith Vaz stands, a man suspended more than once from Parliament.
    …of course not….
    Maritn Bell only achieved what he did because he was up against Neil Hamilton seeking re-election. Owen Patterson isn’t going to stand in this case.

  • @ Lloyd Harris As a matter of accuracy the present M.P. for Leicester East has not been a Labour M.P. since September, 2020. The Labour Whip was withdrawn then pending when it was announced there was to be a criminal case. This was followed by expulsion from the Labour Party when the the verdict in the criminal case became known.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Nov '21 - 7:57pm

    “No-one is likely to want a by-election this side of Christmas.”
    We had a general election ‘this side of Christmas’ in 2019.

    And a by-election has a higher spending limit so more opportunities for the tories?

  • Neil James Sandison 5th Nov '21 - 9:07pm

    This is a blue wall seat in the West Midlands we have many like this to fight leading up to the next general election . agree Andy a good result will bear fruit in the local government election to come in this region.

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Nov '21 - 9:39am

    It’s a big ask to win it, but a good second looks achievable with the pathetic opposition from Labour

  • Russell Simpson 6th Nov '21 - 9:41am

    The Libdems were able to do well in Chesham and Amersham as they were placed 2nd in the 2019 GE and voters made the decision that they were best placed to beat the tories. That’s not the case in North Shropshire. By elections are rare opportunities. The circumstances of this by elections even more so. For the opposition parties to throw away the only realistic chance of unseating the Conservatives and canvass for a single candidate is, to quote a famous Frenchman: “C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute”

  • Mick Taylor 6th Nov '21 - 9:52am

    Andy is spot on. Labour won’t stand aside and we know they can’t win anyway. In my view standing aside denies the electorate a free choice. There are people, perhaps only a few in our case, who will never vote for any other party than the one they have always supported and in the case of Lib Dem voters absolutely no certainty that all of our voters would back a unity candidate in any event.
    So I do hope the party will throw the kitchen sink at this by-election. Let’s push our distinctive vision, à le Meadowcroft, highlighting what we believe in and promising to fight sleaze and corruption. Patterson practised sleaze of the most pernicious sort and I suspect many Shropshire Tories will want to punish the government for its anti democratic behaviour.
    Remember the faint heart never won fair lady!

  • Andy Boddington 6th Nov '21 - 10:43am

    Our LD team is out in Oswestry this morning and in Wem this afternoon.

    Oswestry campaigning

  • West Midland Liberal Democrats say they are opening their campaign this weekend. I noticed on Thursday night that the idea of a anti sleeze candidate had been briefly discussed, discarded and that Labour would be standing.
    We need to stand in Southend West, there is going to be a by election, are we going to stand aside and give the sleezy Cons a virtual clear run. We have a good chance of winning.

  • To constrain the voters of N Shropshire to just one non-Tory candidate would be perceived as a stitch up by many voters. These voters having endured sleaze should not have to suffer a stitch up as well.

  • Jason Connor 6th Nov '21 - 3:14pm

    I don’t recall Labour standing aside in Chesham and Amersham to enable the best placed party to take the seat. Labour were at it full pelt so the French quote is a red herring. An MP was murdered in Southend West and it would be so disrespectful and anti democratic for any of the other mainstream parties to stand a candidate there. Their constituents had their MP, a decent hard working constituency MP, taken away from them in the most despicable way.

  • Steve Comer 6th Nov '21 - 4:13pm

    The MP for Eastbourne was murdered in 1990. There was a debate about whether a Liberal Democrat candidate should stand in the by-election, but on balance it was felt that it would be so disrespectful and anti democratic not to give the people of Eastbourne the chance to elect who they wanted as MP.

    Oh and by the way the result was a Liberal Democrat GAIN! The Tories tried to make an issue of the decision o stand, but by the time the vote was held local residents were more interested in who was best paced to represent them.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Nov '21 - 4:55pm

    Jason Connor: I completely disagree, and more to the point the electorate disagreed the last time this was put to the test (in Eastbourne). By-election campaigns hardly ever refer back to the event that caused the by-election, however tragic — because the electorate is thinking about the future, not the past. It’s more likely to be a factor when the cause is a transgression by the previous incumbent, as in North Shropshire — but this will be neutralised by the fact that the incumbent Owen Paterson will (almost certainly) not be standing again, so voters will be judging the new Tory candidate, not the one who resigned. As I noted in another thread, the fact that Owen Paterson will not be the Tory candidate completely demolishes the case for a Martin Bell type anti-sleaze candidate.

    And if David Amess was a “decent hard working constituency MP”, then this is a reflection not of his party label, but of his own personal qualities, and would make voters less inclined, not more, to vote for someone else who just happens to share the same party label as him. What is “disrespectful and anti democratic” is for the mainstream parties to decide to deny the electorate a meaningful choice in the matter.

  • The Southend West election is likely to be in the New Year givern the MP’s funeral is 23rd November. As one who campaigned at Eastburne after the murder of the MP by the IRA I cannot recall anyone voicing concern over an election, not even the media, remind me, we won didn’t we.
    If we use Jason”s logic and the a present day Guy Fawkes blew up the Commons and half of its elected members there would no by elections! !
    Reform are standing at Southend. Are we going to let them win?

  • Alex Macfie 6th Nov '21 - 8:07pm

    No, Reform isn’t standing in the Southend West by-election, but Jayda Fransen of the far-right “British Freedom Party” reportedly is. I fear for the election result, as unless a respectable alternative to the Tory emerges, it is likely that the only people who will bother to vote will be dyed-in-the-wool Tories and supporters of the far right. And we know how poor the Tory GOTV operation is for by-elections, and this makes a victory by the far-right candidate a possibility.

  • Robert Hale 6th Nov '21 - 9:19pm

    If Reform UK (Brexit Party – the sequel) stand in North Shropshire against the current backdrop of demands for reform of this, that and the other, they might poll quite well, even cause a four way split. They certainly won’t be short of cash and Richard Tice may well put himself up as the ‘anti-sleaze candidate. I recall, for those who remember him, that in the 1992 election Russell Johnston held his seat with 26% of the vote on a four way split. We have a real chance in North Shropshire, where do I send my cheque?

  • Robert Hale 6th Nov ’21 – 9:19pm:
    [The Reform Party] certainly won’t be short of cash and Richard Tice may well put himself up as the ‘anti-sleaze candidate.

    Tice is standing (and currently campaigning) in Old Bexley and Sidcup. The party has already selected Kirsty Walmsley to stand in North Shropshire…

    ‘First candidate in North Shropshire by-election confirmed as ex-council leader’s daughter’ [6th. November 2021]:
    https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/politics/2021/11/06/first-candidate-in-north-shropshire-by-election-confirmed-as-ex-council-leaders-daughter/

    The daughter of a former Shropshire Council leader who switched from the Conservatives to Reform UK will stand for the parliamentary seat vacated by Owen Paterson.

    Kirsty Walmsley, herself a Shropshire former councillor and the daughter of ex-leader Keith Barrow, is challenging to become the next North Shropshire MP.

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