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16 December 2021

North Shropshire goes to the polls against a backdrop of political division and Covid chaos

The government is urging people to enter a voluntary lockdown, leaving businesses and households without any economic support.

By Stephen Bush

Party like it’s March 2020! Boris Johnson used his press conference last night to, uh, actually I’m not 100 per cent sure what he used it to do. Conservative MPs are divided about whether or not their Prime Minister will action another lockdown – instead the government is urging the public to lock themselves down – or whether yesterday’s press conference was just theatre, and an attempt by the government to look on top of Covid ahead of polling day in the North Shropshire by-election.

Conservatives are sounding the alarm/engaging in expectations management while the Liberal Democrats are getting ahead of themselves/quietly confident (delete as applicable).

As for the Labour Party: they are divided between Team “eh, not our problem” and Team “Excuse me, we finished second last time around”. North Shropshire is, demographically speaking, a safe Conservative seat: it is flush with Leave voters and homeowners, and short on Remainers and graduates. There is ultimately no serious anti-Conservative challenger there and hasn’t been since Ian Lucas (later of Wrexham) nearly won the seat in 1997.

Added to the confusion around what exactly the right anti-Tory vote there is (the Liberal Democrats have been the ones spending time and money in this by-election, but Labour have come second in six of the last seven elections) and it really is a seat that the Conservatives should have no business losing in.

Our political correspondent Ailbhe Rea went down to North Shropshire and described it as feeling like a safe Conservative seat in which the biggest threat to the Tories was a lack of motivation: in that respect, wholly unlike Chesham and Amersham, where there was a real sense of buzz and momentum towards the Liberal Democrats.

At the moment, however, we have the worst possible policy mix: one in which people are being urged to enter lockdown, but businesses and households will be left without economic support to get them through the consequences of a voluntary lockdown.

[See also: A lockdown with insufficient financial support is the worst of both worlds]

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