Boris on knife-edge: PM faces very significant drop in votes after tough by-election

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The ultra-safe North Shropshire was left on a knife-edge after weeks of disquiet hit Conservative popularity in the polls.

Liberal Democrats campaigned hard in the hope of overturning the 23,000 majority.

Tory insiders admitted it had been “very tough” on the doorstep and was an incredibly competitive election.

The party was braced for a “very significant drop” in vote share caused by local and national factors and sources admitted there was “also no escaping the reason we had this election in first place”.

Owen Paterson represented the constituency for 24 years until his resignation after a botched attempt to shield him from a 30-day suspension.

The MP was found to have breached lobbying rules for two companies paying him £100,000 a year.

Boris Johnson has since faced an onslaught of allegations about staff Christmas parties in Downing Street during lockdown last year that have hit his poll ratings.

North Shropshire has returned a Tory MP in every vote since 1983, which was the constituency’s first election in its current form.

But the area has been true blue, only twice voting for another colour, since the Conservative Party’s inception in 1830.

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In the 2019 general election, the Tories won 62.7% of the vote and held the seat with a majority of 22,949.

Bookmakers have put the Lib Dem Helen Morgan favourite to win over Tory Neil Shastri-Hurst.

Campaigners on the ground believe the result is too close to call and Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey described it as a “coin toss”.

Labour is said to have increased its campaigning in the final few days before the vote, which could split the vote and allow the Conservatives to hold on to the seat.

Nationally, latest polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on Labour 37 per cent, down one, the Conservative on 32 per cent, down two, and the Lib Dems steady on 11 per cent.

Christine Jardine, Lib Dem Treasury spokeswoman, said: “Helen Morgan ran a fantastic campaign against a Conservative party which has taken people in North Shropshire for granted. 

“There is real anger at Boris Johnson’s Government which is completely out of touch with the country. 

“If the Conservative Party lose significant numbers of votes tonight in one of their safest seats in the country, there will be countless Conservative MPs looking over their shoulders nervously tomorrow. This seat has returned a Conservative MP since 1830. 

“The Liberal Democrats are within touching distance of winning Blue Wall Conservative seats across the country at the next general election. If we get a strong result here in a rural Conservative safe seat, it will send a shiver down Boris Johnson’s spine.”

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