North Shropshire: Can hopefuls challenge decades of Tory dominance?
Stick £100 on Owen Paterson to retain the North Shropshire seat at the General Election, and some bookies will give you a pound. Others will give you 50p.
In today’s turbulent times there is probably no such thing as a political certainty. But North Shropshire comes pretty close.
Mr Paterson, who served as a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government, has held the Tory stronghold since 1997 – the one occasion when the seat did show signs of vulnerability to Tony Blair’s New Labour revolution.
Once more he will be challenged by another familiar face in Graeme Currie, who will be contesting the seat on behalf of the Labour Party for the third election in a row.
Both Mr Paterson and Mr Currie are very much home-grown candidates; the Tory contender was born and bred in Whitchurch, while Mr Currie lives in Bagley, Ellesmere.
But while the Labour candidate will be on familiar territory during the election campaign, he will be in no doubt about the size of the task facing him. At the 2017 General Election, Mr Currie found himself some 16,355 votes behind Mr Paterson. Since leaving the cabinet, Mr Paterson has cemented a reputation as an ardent eurosceptic.
A leading member of the European Research Group, he was a vociferous campaigner for Brexit at the 2016 referendum.
He was a fierce critic of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, and called for the former prime minister to resign after Britain failed to leave the EU at the end of March. This stance will probably go down well in a constituency where almost 60 per cent voted to leave the EU at the referendum.
Mr Currie, who runs a private social-work business, hopes that the 1997 General Election result, which saw Labour come within 2,195 votes of the Tories, will show that the contest is not a foregone conclusion.
“Some people tell me that this is always going to be a Tory area, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” he says.
Mr Currie says it will be a two-horse race between himself and Mr Paterson, but Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan will be hoping to challenge the status quo.
At the last two elections the Liberal Democrats came a distant third, but the party will take some hope from the 2010 result which saw it beat Labour to take second place.
While unlikely to present a serious threat to Mr Paterson, there is a following for the Greens in the constituency and John Adams will fight the seat for the party.
Also standing will be Robert Jones of the Shropshire Party, who is calling for reform of planning law and the creation of a devolved government along the lines of the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Profile on North Shropshire, considered a Tory stronghold
Whitchurch-born Owen Paterson has held the seat for the Tories since 1997, and served in David Cameron’s cabinet. A strong Brexiteer, he supports a small state and GM crop technology.
Labour’s Graeme Currie is a 62-year-old social worker who lives in Bagley, having moved to the area 16 years ago. He wants a second referendum on leaving the EU, and says poverty and climate change are his priorities.
Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan is an accountant who lives with her young family in Harmer Hill. She says stopping Brexit is a priority, adding it would be a disaster for the area, and has led to a rise in political extremism.
Green candidate John Adams is a former lecturer at Harper Adams University, who moved to the county in 1987. He lives in Telford but previously lived in Market Drayton. He is interested in sustainable farming.
Baschurch poultry farm worker Robert Jones founded the Shropshire Party, and has previously stood in local elections. He wants a regional devolved assembly and greater powers for parish and town councils.
Constituency has remained Conservative for almost its entire existence
Established for the 1832 general election, North Shropshire has been held by the Conservative Party for almost its entire existence.
However, the constituency was abolished in 1885 and recreated in 1983.
The vast and sparsely populated seat is predominantly rural in character. While much of it is covered by farmland, it also includes market towns such as Wem, Whitchurch, Market Drayton and Oswestry, thought to be named after King Oswald of Northumbria who died in the 7th Century.
You have to delve deep into history to go back to the time when a non-Conservative, Tory or Unionist held the seat. In the 19th century the constituency was represented by two MPs, and in 1832 and 1834 the Whig John Cotes took second place, becoming its second MP.
In 1885, the constituency was broken up to form the seats of Newport, Wellington and Oswestry, but it was recreated in 1983. Initially called Shropshire North, the late John Biffen, who had represented Oswestry since 1961, became the first MP for the modern constituency, and held several cabinet posts.
He was succeeded by Owen Paterson, who has held the seat since 1997.