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This week I arrived in parliament as a Liberal Democrat MP. It was the first time I had been to Westminster since winning the by-election in North Shropshire, a constituency held by the Conservative Party since 1832.
The result has been described by many as a shock and “totally unexpected”. Yet when you heard the anger and frustration that I heard on the doorstep each day, the result should have shocked nobody.
I spoke to hundreds of people during the campaign, each with their own story of dismay at a Conservative government which has totally ignored them and their daily concerns. On the doorsteps of Shropshire I heard heartbreaking stories of ambulances taking over 10 hours to provide emergency care, small businesses on the brink after months of uncertainty, and farmers who have been let down by botched trade deals. The anger at Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
So when I arrived in Westminster after the Christmas recess, I expected to find a prime minister and a government willing to listen to voters in North Shropshire. How wrong I was.
On my first day, I managed to ask Boris Johnson in the House of Commons to set up an inquiry into dangerous ambulance waiting times in rural areas, an issue which dominated the by-election campaign far more than any sleaze story. In Shropshire, we’ve had four ambulance stations closed in recent months and waiting times among the worst in the country.
The response from the prime minister to this life and death situation was truly shocking. He brushed aside my calls for an inquiry. In one fell swoop, Boris Johnson showed he simply hasn’t learnt the lessons from losing the by-election. It is exactly this which makes people’s blood boil in my area.
My second day felt like deja-vu. Upon opening an email from the secretary of state for international trade bragging about the benefits to my region from the new UK-Australia trade deal, there was not a single mention of the rural economy. Perhaps that is because the government’s very own impact assessment of this trade deal admits it will cost British farmers almost £100m.
During the campaign I heard from farmers so furious with this government that they plan on never voting Conservative again. Perhaps if Boris Johnson or the secretary of state for international trade had bothered to speak to farmers in Shropshire, they might have thought twice about promoting a disastrous trade deal.
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It raises the question: why won’t Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues listen to voters?
There is a growing revolt across the former Conservative heartlands. What we heard in North Shropshire is almost identical to doorstep conversations in the villages of Chesham and Amersham and across the English countryside.
At the next election, there will be endless headlines about the so-called “red wall”. However, the Liberal Democrat victories in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham have proven it is the “blue wall” that could prove the downfall of Boris Johnson’s government.
Just like northern towns and cities, rural English communities like mine have been taken for granted by the Conservative Party. Last month, we said enough is enough. Boris Johnson ignores the blue wall revolt at his peril.
Helen Morgan is the Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire