The past few days have been worrying for everyone as we’ve seen new restrictions, massive pressures on our NHS and businesses struggling to survive. It’s felt like last Christmas, all over again.
So, I hope the Liberal Democrats’ stunning win in North Shropshire will provide some hope and offer people a light at the end of this tunnel. It shows there are consequences for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, who’ve broken the very rules they asked our country to follow during the pandemic.
Our victory in North Shropshire is a victory for everyone who spent time away from friends and loved ones last Christmas – and is furious with the Conservatives for thinking it’s one rule for them and another for everyone else.
Of course, this result was far from being just a protest vote. From the very beginning of this campaign, long before Peppa Pig and “partygate” hit the headlines, there was something very profound happening in the market towns and countryside of North Shropshire. Not just people angry about specific local issues, like the way the Conservatives have failed Shropshire with inadequate ambulance and A&E services. Many voters were also asking profound questions about the leadership of our country.
I visited North Shropshire five times during the campaign. So many lifelong Conservative voters complained to me about the prime minister himself: his bumbling act, his broken promises, his lack of decency.
North Shropshire may turn out to be a turning point. Remember how the Conservatives crowed after taking traditional Labour seats in the north of England? They said a generational shift had taken place – the default of voting the same way election after election, had been reset. They had breached the red wall.
Well, earlier this year, in Buckinghamshire Liberal Democrats breached the Tories’ blue wall, with our victory in the Chesham and Amersham by-election. And now with North Shropshire yesterday, that progressive reset has occurred again. In village after village, through market towns and in farms across this beautiful stretch of countryside – once-lifelong Conservative voters have decided enough is enough.
Now, I do not believe we would have won this once ultra-safe Conservative seat without two other crucial factors. Firstly: the first Liberal Democrat and female MP of North Shropshire, Helen Morgan. The moment the by-election was called, and before she had even been selected, Helen was on the phone – convincing the party we could win this seat against all the odds.
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Helen lives and breathes her community of North Shropshire. During the lockdown she delivered food and medicine to Covid shielders and in the election she worked her socks off. In one village I was knocking doors and one person assured me they’d never vote for the Lib Dems, but would absolutely vote for Helen.
The other reason is that Labour and Green supporters put tribalism aside and backed the Liberal Democrats, as the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in seats like North Shropshire. In fact, one Green campaigner came out and handed out Liberal Democrat leaflets.
This was a beautiful thing to see, because in truth our politics has been without hope for such a long time. For progressives, there has been a sense that the Conservatives being in power had become inevitable. That illusion has now been shattered. If the Conservatives can be beaten in true blue seats in Buckinghamshire and Shropshire, they can truly be beaten anywhere.