While the pre-Christmas race to become the county town’s next MP may lack the drama of marginals such as Telford, it is crucial for a different reason.
Shrewsbury and Atcham has been identified by the pollsters as the seat that Labour needs to take to secure a majority of one. If Julia Buckley succeeds in ousting Daniel Kawczynski, the chances are that Jeremy Corbyn will be Britain’s next prime minister.
To recall the last time Labour held Shrewsbury, you have to go back to the days of Tony Blair and New Labour. Paul Marsden won the seat for Labour in 1997, and held it until 2005, although for more than three of those years he actually sat as a Liberal Democrat.
Daniel Kawczynski regained the seat for the Tories at the 2005 General Election, and has held it ever since.
Mr Kawczynski, who made history as Britain’s first Polish-born MP, will be defending a majority of 6,627 when Britain goes to the polls on December 12.
While the seat is hardly a key marginal, it would also be wrong to describe it as a foregone conclusion and it will be second on Labour’s hit-list after the must-win seat of Telford.
It is fair to say that Labour’s campaign in the constituency did not get off to the best of starts, though. Within days of the election being called, Labour controversially removed its long-standing candidate Dr Laura Davies. The constituency Labour Party accused Dr Davies of failing to work and engage with members, but there was also a rift regarding the hot-potato of plans to shake up hospital services in the county. While official Labour policy is to retain separate A & E units at both Shrewsbury and Telford, Dr Davies – a GP who used to work at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital – said they should be replaced with a single ‘super hospital’ between the two towns.
The party will now be hoping to put these controversies behind it as it rallies around its new candidate Julia Buckley. A member of Bridgnorth Town Council, Mrs Buckley contested the seat of Ludlow for Labour in 2017.
Mr Kawczynski, an outspoken Brexiteer, was an early supporter of Boris Johnson in the Conservative leadership election. He is a strong supporter of the £312 million Future Fit hospital shake-up, which will see the A & E unit at Shrewsbury’s Princess Royal Hospital expanded to serve the whole county, but the one at Telford downgraded.
Also contesting the seat will be Nat Green, a Liberal Democrat councillor in the town, and Shrewsbury Town Council member Julian Dean who will be fighting the seat for the Greens. The fifth candidate is a bit of a wildcard – 18-year-old independent Hannah Locke.
Profile on Shrewsbury & Atcham: A vital five-way fight
Daniel Kawczynski will be contesting the seat for the fifth time.
The 47-year-old is a vocal Brexiteer, and has campaigned for a relief road to the north-west of Shrewsbury. He supports the Future Fit hospital shake-up.
Julia Buckley is a town councillor in Bridgnorth and works for Wolverhampton Council.
She said the murder of her friend, the Labour MP Jo Cox, moved her to stand. She opposes the Future Fit hospital reorganisation.
Nat Green has represented Quarry and Coton Hill on Shropshire Council since 2017.
He says his priorities include making Shrewsbury carbon neutral by 2030, halting Brexit and securing more money for public transport.
Originally from Bridgnorth, Julian Dean spent 20 years in London before moving to Shrewsbury in 2006.
He works as a vocational music teacher and trade union official. He cites health as a major issue.
Hannah Locke, an 18-year-old gap-year student, has set her sights on becoming the youngest MP in the country.
She is concerned that Brexit is dominating the election, and will focus on local issues and young people.
Town with a history of colourful MPs can sway with nation’s mood
Shrewsbury and Atcham is something of a bellwether for the mood of the nation.
Solidly Conservative through the Thatcher and Major years, it turned red during the Blair landslides of 1997 and 2001, returning to the Conservatives as Blair’s popularity began to wane in the wake of the Iraq war. While it was comfortably held by the Conservatives’ Daniel Kawczynski two years ago, it reflected the national trend in that his majority was significantly cut.
It has a history of producing colourful MPs. Derek Conway, who would later become engulfed in controversy, became the first MP when the constituency was formed in 1983. He held the seat for 14 years, establishing a reputation for hardline euroscepticism – voting against the creation of the European Single Market – and as a campaigner for the return of the death penalty. He went on to represent Bexley and Sidcup, where he hit the headlines in 2008 as one of the first MPs to be censured in the expenses scandal. He was ousted in 1997 by Labour’s Paul Marsden, who held the seat in 2001 only to defect to the Liberal Democrats – and later return to the Labour fold.
Since 2004, the seat has been held by Daniel Kawczynski, who has been a high-profile campaigner for Brexit.