Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan has taken North Shropshire from the Conservatives in a shock by-election result that is a hammer-blow to Boris Johnson, asking serious questions about his right to continue as prime minister.
The Liberal Democrats turned a Conservative majority of almost 23,000 in the 2019 election into a majority for them of nearly 6,000.
That is a massive swing from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats – apparently the seventh-biggest in by-election history.
It was more than just another by-election – it was a referendum on the leadership of Boris Johnson, and the result was decisively against him.
Sure, turnout was down from the general election’s 67.9 per cent – but high for a by-election at 46.3 per cent.
Looking at both election results in terms of proportion of the electorate voting for the different parties – which is better when the number of people voting varies, in 2019 Conservative Owen Paterson won the support of 43 per cent of the electorate, while Labour had 15 per cent and Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan just 6.9 per cent.
Yesterday (December 16), the same Liberal Democrat candidate was supported by 22 per cent of the electorate, while the Tory candidate had 14.8 per cent. The Labour vote evaporated almost entirely, with that party’s candidate gaining just 4.5 per cent of the possible vote.
The Conservatives lost nearly 24,000 votes – 28.9 per cent of the possible electorate – in a stroke.
Ms Morgan gained many of those Tory voters, along with many Labour supporters who lent her their votes in order to send a clear message to Boris Johnson: “You are not wanted here.”
The winning candidate elaborated on this in her speech. She said Johnson was “no leader”, that his government is “run on lies and bluster” giving the UK a “nightly soap opera of calamity and chaos” and that, for him, “the party is over”.
But it seems clear that the party may also be over for Keir Starmer, over at Labour.
Starmer didn’t bother much with North Shropshire. He certainly didn’t put the campaigning effort into the constituency that the Lib Dems and the Tories did – possibly because he agreed that the Lib Dems stood a better chance of defeating the Tories (even though Labour came second in 2019).
He seems to agree with other parties an awful lot. This seems to be coming across to voters as a lack of confidence in his own party that is putting them off supporting it.
And the Liberal Democrats seem to have become the palatable alternative. They used to be considered the middle-of-the-road party for people who weren’t as right-wing as the Tories or as left-wing as Labour; now it seems they’re the opposition to two right-wing parties that are suddenly finding they can’t take their tribal voters for granted any more.
I don’t think the Liberal Democrats are going to jump to over-optimistic conclusions about this result; they know this was a protest vote that may not be replicated in a general election unless their new MP makes a big impact, standing up for her constituency in Parliament.
But both Labour and the Conservatives have to be scared by this result because it means the public don’t like the direction taken by either main party.
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