Everything you need to know about the North Shropshire by-election

For the first time in more than 20 years, North Shropshire will be represented in the House of Commons by someone other than Owen Paterson.

Owen Paterson in the Commons shortly before resigning as North Shropshire MP
Owen Paterson in the Commons shortly before resigning as North Shropshire MP

His resignation as an MP earlier this month, coming in the wake of a lobbying scandal, means a by-election has been triggered.

The vote will be held on December 16 and more than a dozen candidates are in the running.

Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming contest.

What exactly is the North Shropshire constituency?

John Biffen was the first MP for the modern day North Shropshire constituency

The current territory stretches from Oswestry in the west, bordering Wales, to Market Drayton in the east, near Staffordshire and Cheshire. Other settlements include Whitchurch, Ellesmere, Wem, Ruyton-XI-Towns, Harmer Hill and Shawbury. Largely rural but with a number of proud historic towns, important local issues include jobs, farming and the state of the roads.

The constituency has existed in two forms - it was first created in 1832 and covered roughly the northern half of Shropshire. It was represented by two members, formally called Knights of the Shire, until 1885 when the constituency was abolished. At that point Shropshire was split into four single-member constituencies: Ludlow, Newport, Oswestry and Wellington.

In 1983 the North Shropshire constituency was revived in a smaller form with a single member. Since then just two people have represented North Shropshire in Parliament, both of them Conservatives: John Biffen, from 1983 to 1997, and Owen Paterson, from 1997 to 2021.

Why is the by-election being held?

Owen Paterson, who had been the MP for North Shropshire since 1997, held the seat comfortably in the 2019 general election with an increased vote share of 62.7 per cent, or 35,444 votes.

Earlier this year, an explosive independent investigation found 65-year-old Mr Paterson broke Parliamentary rules by repeatedly lobbying ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

The senior Tory announced his resignation earlier this month after the Prime Minister was forced into a retreat over plans to prevent his immediate suspension by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system. Boris Johnson had supported an attempt by Mr Paterson's allies to review the sanction until opposition parties refused to take part in a "corrupt" Tory-led committee tasked with the review.

Rather than face a fresh vote on a possible six-week ban, Mr Paterson said he would resign as an MP. In a statement he said his children had asked him to leave politics for the sake of the family after a "nightmare" two years which included the suicide of his wife Rose.

He maintains his innocence and says that he acted "at all times" in the interests of public health and safety. Nevertheless, his resignation means that North Shropshire needs to choose a new MP for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

How do I vote?

Polling stations will be open from 7am-10pm on Thursday, December 16

The ballot itself will be held on Thursday, December 16 (it is tradition for elections in the UK to be held on Thursdays). The polls will open at 7am and close at 10pm.

Poll cards are already going out across the constituency but there is still time to register - anyone wishing to vote has until midnight on Tuesday, November 30. To register, visit gov.uk/register-to-vote and follow the five-minute process.

The deadline for postal vote applications is 5pm on Wednesday, December 1.

Anyone wishing to apply for a postal vote must fill out The Electoral Commission's application form and return it to: Electoral Services, Shirehall, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY2 6ND.

Shropshire Council recommends using 'priority post boxes' to ensure their application arrives on time.

Anyone who is unable to sign their form due to a disability can receive a waiver from the Elections Team, as long as someone applies for a waiver on their behalf. Appropriate forms are available from Shropshire Council.

If the postal ballot papers do not arrive, those registered can apply for a new one between five working days before polling day and 5pm on by-election day.

To find out where there are polling stations near you, visit wheredoivote.co.uk.

Who is likely to win?

Owen Paterson, Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski and Philip Dunne, South Shropshire, all retained their seats for the Conservatives in 2019

North Shropshire is seen as one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. Conservatives have won in every election ever held in the constituency (although in the first election in 1832, when North Shropshire had two seats, one of the two was a Whig).

Owen Paterson was first elected in 1997 and won with 20,730 votes - 2,195 more than Labour's Ian Lucas in second place. In the six elections afterwards, Mr Paterson increased his share of the vote every time. His lead over second-placed Labour of almost 23,000 votes in 2019 (earning him 62.7 per cent of the vote) might be seen as unassailable.

But both Labour and the Lib Dems are touting themselves as realistic challengers to the Government, refusing to come together behind a single anti-sleaze candidate as had been mooted in the days following Mr Paterson's resignation.

Both parties have pushed hard on the issue of sleaze, seeking to make hay with the lobbying scandal that led to Owen Paterson's downfall.

A raft of other candidates (there are 14 in total) on left and right could divide the vote share of both the Conservatives and their opponents, and the bookies say the Government probably don't need to worry too much about an upset - earlier this week the Lib Dems were second favourites at 7/2 and Labour were in third at 10/1.

Then again, such upsets are not unheard of. Tony Blair’s resurgent Labour Party took the previously secure Tory seat of Dudley West with a swing of 29 per cent in a 1994 by-election, at a time when John Major’s scandal-hit Tories were floundering amid allegations of sleaze and division. Sound familiar?

Who are the candidates?

A total of 14 people have thrown their hats into the ring. They are, in alphabetical order:

Suzie Akers-Smith is standing as an independent candidate. She sits as an independent on Cheshire East Council.

Former teacher Andrea Allen will contest the election for UKIP. She has lived in Whitchurch since 1982.

Boris Johnson impersonator Drew Galdron - under the name 'Boris Been-Bunged' - is standing for the Rejoin EU party.

Former journalist and ex-Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubney is standing for Reclaim, Laurence Fox's right-wing party. He was appointed deputy leader earlier this year.

Yacht salesman Russell Dean is standing for the Party Party. The 55-year-old, who went to school in Wellington but now lives in Monaco, says that if he were to become the MP he would relocate back to the UK.

James Elliott will stand for the Heritage Party, which was founded in October last year by former UKIP member David Kurten.

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party's leader Alan 'Howling Laud' Hope will contest North Shropshire.

Earl Elvis Philippe Jesse is standing for the anti-lockdown party the Freedom Alliance.

Independent Yolande Kenward, 69, is standing in North Shropshire having previously contested elections in Maidstone and The Weald.

The Green candidate is Duncan Kerr, who is currently mayor of Oswestry and has sat on the town council for eight years. The 61-year-old also represents Oswestry South on Shropshire Council.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan says her party has the best chance of taking the seat from the Conservatives. The 46-year-old previously contested the seat in 2019.

The Conservative candidate hoping to retain the seat for the party is Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst, a 38-year-old barrister from Birmingham who previously worked as a surgeon and a soldier.

Reform UK (formerly known as the Brexit Party) are represented by Kirsty Walmsley, the 39-year-old daughter of former Shropshire Council leader Keith Barrow. She grew up in Oswestry and previously worked for Owen Paterson.

Labour's candidate is Ben Wood, a 26-year-old political adviser born and bred in Oswestry. He was two years old when Owen Paterson was first elected to represent North Shropshire and his first job was in his home town.

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