North Shropshire by-election: How did Tories turn off true blue voters?

By Sophie Madden & Riyah Collins
BBC News, West Midlands

After a long history of voting Tory, Martin Dicken will no longer back the Conservatives "as long as I have got breath in my lungs".
"You can't trust any Conservative politician," the North Shropshire voter told the BBC.
This in a constituency that in its 200-year history has never turned its back on the Tory party – until now.
As Helen Morgan swept the Lib Dems to victory with a 6,000-vote majority, what went wrong for the Conservatives in this "true blue" area?
This is a quiet corner of England – only 80,000 people live within the geographically huge constituency which covers 93,521 hectares. There are no cities, only a handful of market towns including Wem, Whitchurch, Ellesmere, Oswestry and Market Drayton.
During the election campaign, voters made clear what mattered to them was local issues: farming, the NHS and improving public transport and connectivity.
"Our police station has closed, our ambulance service has closed, we have got one doctors surgery for the whole of the Whitchurch area where they're planning another 5,000-7,000 houses in the next three or four years," Mr Dicken, who lives in the town, said.
"So for me, the Conservative party, I don't think have got their feet on the ground, they need to wake up and not bury their heads in the sand over loads of measures."
Likewise for Jane Gray, from the village of Woore: local issues were front and centre when she decided which box to mark with a cross on Thursday.
"We have no services in this village, we have no buses.
"Children on third-level education can't get to any college unless they have parents with the car who can take them, or friends," she said.
For the first time, her ballot was for the Lib Dems and not the Conservatives.
"I've never voted Lib Dem before, I have swung from Conservatives," she said. "So we're very pleased."
One of the reasons Mr Dicken and other voters were impressed by the newly-elected Lib Dem MP was that she was "a local lady".
Mrs Morgan, an accountant, lives in Harmer Hill, a village just south of Wem. The Conservative candidate Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst hails from Birmingham and many voters questioned whether he could truly understand what makes this rural constituency tick.
It's not difficult to find voters who have turned their back on the Conservatives for the first time. As well as local issues, stories of sleaze and misconduct have cut through to the electorate – indeed Mrs Morgan said the vote was a resounding message that "enough is enough".
It was allegations of sleaze that triggered this election in the first place. Owen Paterson, who had held the seat for the Conservatives since 1997, resigned amid a lobbying scandal when he was found to have broken rules in his work for private companies which paid him thousands of pounds a month.
"I think [voters] are very fed up with what's gone on in the last few weeks," said Lynne Edwards, from Wem.
Out shopping in Oswestry with her husband Keith, she said the Conservatives had "a really difficult job with all that's being going on in Westminster" but the switch away from the Tories was probably a temporary "blip".
"I think people are sending a bit of a message that perhaps we are fed up… we're telling Boris [Johnson] 'we want something different'."
Philip Simpson, from Rosehill Brick and Tile Yard near Market Drayton, also declined to give the Tories his usual support in this by-election. "It was coming," he said.
"It seemed to me there was a lot of discontent with the local population in the way the government was handling the policies and the way they were implementing them and I think the [Liberal Democrat] candidate was clearly the candidate for the job," he said.
"When I looked at the candidates, Mrs Morgan, she had a good CV, she lived locally… I felt like she would have a good grip on the financial side of government spending."
Even a Conservative councillor from Whitchurch is pleased his new MP is at least a local.
"It is nice to have someone local again," Councillor Robert Hewson said.
"The Conservative man, he was from out of town. I think people have got to know the area and know the towns."
He had previously supported Mr Paterson, who he said he had "a lot of respect" for. It's not over for the Tories, he said, but certainly "a big shake up".
By Elizabeth Glinka, BBC Midlands Political Editor
It's the scale of the victory that's the biggest surprise.
In this 'true blue' Conservative seat, Helen Morgan made it not just over the line, but won with a comfortable majority of almost 6,000.
During the past week the campaign has become increasingly intense as Westminster politics delivered a daily diet of controversy. The Conservative campaign locally came under pressure.
Labour saw its vote share collapse and by the early hours the Lib Dems were confident enough to call it.
Voters of all stripes perhaps lent their vote to the Liberal Democrats to send a message to the Conservative government and the prime minister.
"I hope it sends a message that we need more support," said Market Drayton sweet shop owner Jane Warner. Like so many others, the traditional Conservative supporter withheld her vote from the party this time around.
"We need them to be more relevant, we need them to understand smaller issues and the smaller towns in Shropshire that need as much attention as Westminster and London and the bigger cities."
Ms Warner instead voted for Labour's candidate Ben Wood and the reasoning is perhaps at this point predictable.
"I felt he was a local lad and really interested in local issues like local business and farming and those are really big issues in Market Drayton," she said.
"I didn't meet the Conservative candidate once – he didn't come in here, I didn't have anything through the door from him, I didn't know him. He wasn't a local person so I wasn't going to vote for him."
Perhaps the former Conservative leader of Shropshire Council summed it up most succinctly.
Posting on Twitter, Keith Barrow, whose daughter Kirsty Walmsley stood for Reform UK, said the Tories had been "arrogant and complacent at the start".
"[The] Conservatives picked the wrong candidate who had the wrong policies," he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he totally understood voters' frustrations. "I hear what the voters are saying," he said. "In all humility, I've got to accept that verdict".
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