North Shropshire by-election: Lib Dems now odds-on favourites but Labour 'still fighting'
Labour's North Shropshire by-election candidate Ben Wood says he is "more confident than ever" that he'll win - despite the Lib Dems now being the bookies' favourites to claim the seat.
All major bookmakers now have the Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan installed as favourite for Thursday's poll after the Conservatives faced a public backlash over Christmas parties held during lockdown last year.
She is odds on to win at 1/2, with the Conservatives second placed in the pricing at 6/4 and Labour third at 40/1 upwards.
Campaigning is now reaching a peak with North Shropshire's market towns inundated with activists, MPs and party heavyweights who have been shipped in to rally votes for their respective parties.
Despite the apparent Lib Dem surge, Labour candidate Mr Wood - who was joined in Oswestry by shadow minister for food, farming and fisheries Daniel Zeichner this weekend - insists the election is a two-horse race between himself and Conservative candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst.
Labour came a distant second at the last election in North Shropshire, winning 22 per cent of the vote compared to the Tories' 63 per cent. The Lib Dems were third with 10 per cent.
This time around, there are 14 candidates standing.
"I've been speaking to a lot of people who up until last week were voting Conservative, until they heard about the Christmas parties," said Mr Wood, who was also canvassing in Prees and Whitchurch on Saturday.
"It hasn't been a good week for the Conservatives.
"In Whitchurch today, people have told me that they feel it’s one rule for the government, and another rule for the rest of us. Next week we have the chance to send a message
"We're more confident than we ever have been in the last few weeks. We're fighting to win this one."
The Christmas party controversy sparked fury this week when a video was released, appearing to show Prime Minister Boris Johnson's press secretary Allegra Stratton fielding questions in a mock press conference about a Downing Street party on December 18. The country was under strict rules, with London in Tier 3, which banned people from mixing indoors with anyone outside of their support bubble.
Allegations of other parties that may have been held by the Tories, in breach of coronavirus restrictions, have since been made.
Before the video was leaked, Mr Shastri-Hurst was hotly-tipped to retain North Shropshire for the Conservatives, usually an ultra-safe seat for the party.
At the 2019 election Owen Paterson retained the seat for the Tories with a majority of 23,000 but the backbencher resigned after being found to have broken paid lobbying rules while earning more than £100,000 per year for consultancy jobs.
The Conservative candidate to replace him, Dr Shastri-Hurst, is the only candidate from the major parties standing in the election who is not from North Shropshire. The fact he is from Birmingham led to one Tory councillor defecting to Reform UK and local sources from the Conservative Party have told the Shropshire Star they now believe the by-election could be decided by just a few hundred votes.
Also in the county making his case for the North Shropshire seat was the Rejoin EU Party candidate and Boris Johnson impersonator Drew Galdron aka Boris Been Bunged.
Mr Galdron did street presentations at the Buttercross in Market Drayton and at Festival Square in Oswestry.
Labour candidate Mr Wood and Mr Zeichner visited the market in Oswestry and other businesses. Mr Wood said: "He was really pleased to see the town and that people are really proud to live here and set up businesses here."