There is always an air of excitement about by-elections. General elections and the four yearly local elections are planned well ahead by the political parties, candidates and campaigners. But by-elections are won or lost at short notice. And they can be unpredictable. A by-election is more T20 cricket than a test series.
The by-election for the North Shropshire constituency has been underway for a week after the sitting Conservative MP, Owen Paterson, resigned amid allegations of abusing his parliamentary position by lobbying for two food companies that paid him £100,000 a year.
The by-election will be held on 16 December. The only candidates currently announced is one for the right wing Reform Party and an anti-sleaze domiciled overseas. Other parties are selecting candidates now.
Shropshire Council’s meeting on 16 December is to be shifted as councillors will be out campaigning and, more importantly, key officers will at the polling stations and the count.
Two weeks ago, I would not have dreamt that I would spend part of my days writing about sleaze. It has long been around in politics but it only a minority of politicians see their elected position as a way of advancing the interests of their clients.
A brouhaha has engulfed Boris Johnson. Having ordered his MPs to vote against suspending Owen Paterson, he faced a backlash and had to flee. He missed last Monday’s debate on standards and failed to show up at PMQs on Wednesday, copping out instead at COP26. Johnson has no backbone and he has always done this. As Mayor of London, he pledged to lie down in front of the bulldozers if the third runway for Heathrow went ahead. Elevated to Foreign Secretary, he took a day trip to Afghanistan rather than been seen voting in favour of the third runway in the House of Commons. That would have cost him his job. And that would have been against his interests.
It is against this background that we are now fighting a by-election in North Shropshire. Only two candidates have been announced so far even though the election is only a little over a month away on 15 December.
Kirsty Walmsley, the daughter of ex-leader Keith Barrow, has thrown her hat into the ring on behalf of the Reform Party. She told the Shropshire Star she would not have challenged Owen Paterson who was a “man of integrity”. The Barrow Era was not one which Shropshire can look back on with pride. Keith Barrow resigned overnight from Shropshire Council amid allegations of conflicts of interest between his business affairs and council business. Over a couple of pints one Boxing Day lunch, a couple of years before I was elected as a councillor, Keith Barrow told me how much he admired his near neighbour, the climate sceptic anti-EU Owen Paterson. No one should bear the burden of their parents and ancestors in politics but the fact Walmsley is standing for the right-wing populist Reform Party, formerly the Brexit Party, sets the likely tone of her campaign. She is nevertheless likely to draw off some Tory votes.
The Shropshire Star reports that Russell Dean, an ex-pat yacht broker, is to stand for The Party Party [sic] on an anti-sleaze ticket. He is even promising to move back to England. Why I don’t know as MP Geoffrey Cox works from the Virgin Islands a lot of the time.
We can expect sleaze to dominate the first days of the campaign but the debate will move on. The rising cost of living. Poor local transport. Fuel poverty. Environmental degradation. Climate change. The long waits for ambulances. Struggling local health services. Millions wasted on failing shopping centres. Underfunded schools. The local list is very long.
The main parties have yet to announce their candidates. The Conservatives meet tomorrow (Saturday) to select theirs. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens are expected to announce their candidates next week. The Green Party will announce its candidate on 16 November.
The Lib Dems started campaigning a week ago. The official campaign launch will be tomorrow and we’ll be campaigning all weekend. If you are minded to support us, you’ll find details of this weekend’s campaigning here. You can also donate to our campaign here.
North Shropshire is a seat the Lib Dems can win. We need to win it to be represented by MPs that work for our interests not their own.