In the 2019 general election, the Labour Party came in second in North Shropshire.


In this year's by-election, however, not only are the Liberal Democrats the main challenger to the Conservatives, but during the campaign there were accusations that the Labour candidate would split the Liberal Democrats vote.

When the results were declared, not only did the Liberal Democrats overturn the Conservative majority, the Labour party also performed significantly worse compared to the General Election two years previously.

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Are there specific reasons why Labour is not running stronger in a seat where it traditionally places second?


3 Answers 3


The demographics of the area are such that there are a large number of voters who are strongly opposed to Labour party policies (or perhaps to the Labour party brand), and would not vote for Labour under any circumstances.

However these voters might vote LD to register their disapproval of a particular Conservative candidate, or to protest particular events.

In FPTP, tactical voting is important. There is a sense that "This time round, the LD are likely to be competitive", and so much of the anti-Paterson vote has gone to them. This then becomes self-fulfilling: As support for a party grows, more people may vote tactically for them.

  • 3
    +1 For all the talk of an "anti-Tory majority" in the UK people forget there is also a "anti-Labour" one!
    – deep64blue
    Dec 17, 2021 at 19:03
  • 3
    And an anti-LibDem majority too. And an Anti-green one....
    – James K
    Dec 17, 2021 at 19:13
  • Sounds like the Lib Dems have been more successfully in consolidating the anti-Tories vote in recent elections. The last time Labour gained from the Tories's at Corby in 2012.
    – Panda
    Dec 18, 2021 at 7:34
  • I'm not sure whether its a deep-rooted opposition to Labour party policies which is relevant here, as more an opposition to the emotional connotations of voting for Labour. As far as I can tell, the current Libdem programme is more left-wing than the Labour one.
    – Arno
    Dec 18, 2021 at 11:16
  • I'm not sure about the "Lib Dems are more 'left' than Labour" arguement, but I do think it may be the brand not an actual analysis of policy. I've edited to reflect that.
    – James K
    Dec 18, 2021 at 11:21

I think James K has hit the nail on the head regarding traditional Conservative voters being willing to cast a Lib Dem protest vote while still regarding Labour as toxic. There are a couple of other factors, though, which I think are worth bearing in mind:

Firstly, the Labour candidate who ran in 2015, 2017 & 2019; Graeme Currie, was excluded from the local shortlist by the National Executive Committee because of concerns about historic social media posts. He released a statement where he described the NEC as a 'kangaroo court' using 'Stalinist tactics'. The relatively inexperienced 26-year-old Ben Wood was instead selected at the local hustings, but it's conceivable that the exclusion of a locally well-known and seemingly well-liked candidate could have contributed to voter apathy or a willingness to vote Lib Dem for Currie's supporters.

Secondly, there have been murmurings that Labour made a strategic choice to not prioritise the seat, perhaps understanding that the LD candidate had more of a chance of flipping the seat. Former Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, tweeted:

Starmer made a wise strategic choice not to prioritise a rural / market town seat where their ceiling was always going to be lower than ours. Almost as wise as @EdwardJDavey choosing to chuck the kitchen sink at it!

In the FT on December 2nd, there was also a suggestion that there was a sort of unofficial quid-pro-quo deal between Labour and the Lib Dems, for the LDs to not campaign hard in the Old Bexley and Sidcup in exchange for Labour running a skeleton campaign in North Shropshire:

Although both opposition parties insist there is no formal deal, the Lib Dems have fought a minimal campaign ahead of Thursday’s Old Bexley and Sidcup contest in south-east London, giving Labour a clear run in a solidly Tory seat.

Meanwhile, Labour has decided not to campaign heavily in the Shropshire North by-election on December 16, even though the party finished second there in the 2019 general election, allowing the Lib Dems to be the focus for anti-Tory protest.

Labour strategists have said the rural Shropshire seat — left vacant after the resignation of former minister Owen Paterson in the sleaze row — is inhospitable terrain for the party and not worth spending scarce resources on.

One said: “We can see the Lib Dems have focused on Shropshire North and they’ll probably end up a good second there. They came second in the recent local elections — from their perspective it makes sense for them to concentrate their resources there.”

Furthermore, Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds told BBC Breakfast on the morning of the election result that the party "put the effort into it that was proportionate to our chances of winning".

  • "Labour made a strategic choice to not prioritise the seat" I don't have primary sources, but as discussed here the local Labour Party, and eventually front bench Labour MPs, campaigned in Shropshire.
    – J.G.
    Dec 18, 2021 at 19:25

The Liberal Democrats positioned themselves in their leaflets as the 2nd party in the Shropshire area based on the May 2021 local council elections.


Full Local Results

Though the relevance of local council elections to a constituency seat is controversial, not least because you can see from the gains the same council situation (LD's in 2nd) would have been in place during the 2019 GE (Lab came 2nd), these results are a big part of the reason the LibDems were seen as the favourites to overtake the Conservatives in North Shropshire.


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