‘It wasn’t a fluke’: North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan on byelection win | Liberal Democrats

Voters have moved on from Brexit and are now more focused on electing MPs away from the “cheese and wine” Westminster bubble, the new MP for North Shropshire has said after her historic byelection victory.

Helen Morgan said the Liberal Democrats’ win, which overturned a Conservative majority of nearly 23,000, was no fluke and that her party is capable of winning over more voters than people expect.

Speaking during her first few days in the new job, Morgan said her election builds on the party’s success in the Chesham and Amersham byelection in June, where they also took a former Tory safe seat in a shock result.

“We’ve won two big byelections in just over six months. We’ve now proved the Chesham and Amersham result wasn’t a fluke,” she said.

“Everyone said that was about HS2, but in North Shropshire it was about issues that affect everyone in the country. I think it proves we can make a difference across a much wider area than people thought we might be able to.”

She said the Lib Dems, who campaigned strongly against Brexit, have proved their popularity is no longer confined to parts of the country which voted Remain – Shropshire voted to leave the EU by 56.9%.

“The electorate has moved on and it seems to me that they recognise that voting for a Liberal Democrat who’s very rooted in community politics, who is focused on listening, is a massive contrast to this Westminster Conservative bubble where they go to cheese and wine parties after work,” Morgan said.

Revelations in the Guardian that Boris Johnson and 17 staff had a gathering in the Downing Street garden during the first pandemic lockdown prompted fury.

Now that the dust has settled from the election result, Morgan, a former financial controller and parish councillor who moved to North Shropshire seven years ago, said she has had chance to reflect on the mammoth journey the party embarked on to secure their win against the odds.

A key factor was the amount of time and resource they poured into the campaign, and how quickly their activists got on the ground. “Owen Paterson resigned on the Thursday, and we were delivering leaflets on Saturday morning, even though we hadn’t selected a candidate at that point,” she said. “We got 20,000 leaflets out over that first weekend and I think that enabled us to say to the people here: ‘We are the challengers and we really want to take this seriously.’”

Although they knew early on that things were moving in their favour, Morgan said she was never quite sure they had done enough to win.

“I’m not sure at the beginning we would have expected to turn around a 22,000 Conservative majority but we thought we could get really close,” she said. “I never allowed myself to imagine myself as the next MP, I just kept plugging away at the campaign. When it all came together on the last day, it’s quite overwhelming. Obviously, I was thrilled, but there’s a great sense of responsibility that comes with it.”

Much post-election analysis had focused on the impact of the Downing Street Christmas parties scandal, as well as the degree of tactical voting among Labour and Green supporters. While Morgan admits these were key factors, she says it was the Lib Dem offer, and their relentless campaigning, that won the seat.

“I think it would be a bit unfair to the voters to say it was all about anger over the parties,” she said. “And there’s a lot of talk about tactical voting, but you can’t win a seat like this that was 60% Conservative last time round unless you persuade traditional conservative voters to switch to you.”

She said there were multiple issues, including anger at ambulance waiting times and concerns among the farming community, which helped swing the vote in her favour.

“There’s a palpable sense of anger among farmers around the trade deals; they’ve created a real moment of danger for British farming,” she said, adding the industry had also been badly hit by Covid. “We’ve had people pouring milk down the drains, which is completely unsustainable. I think there’s a definite sense that Boris Johnson just really doesn’t care about the farming sector.”

In her election speech, Morgan launched a blistering attack on the government, describing Johnson’s rule as a “nightly soap opera of calamity and chaos”.

It’s the “absence of leadership from government” that is mainly hurting the Conservatives on the ground, she said. “I think people are crying out for somebody to say: ‘This is what we’re going to do and we’re going to lead from the front,’ and it’s absent.”

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