The Prime Minister may be attempting to block illicit travel across the Channel, but those far less nefarious routes by which ConservativeHome hears about openings for candidate selection are still very much open. In which case, we are pleased to report that the hunt for a Parliamentary Spokesperson has begun in both North Shropshire and St Albans.
The closing date is May 9th, and those interested are required to submit a CV and application of the traditional type. As mentioned previously, the party is pursuing appointing candidates for seats affected by boundary changes on a case-by-case basis, meaning that those who are selected may face being pushed out by an MP exercising their incumbency rights when the constituencies are re-jigged.
Nevertheless, that St Albans and North Shropshire are joining Oxford West and Abingdon, Bath, and Chesham and Amersham in forming part of the party’s first push for candidates tells us a lot about the thinking in CCHQ. All of these seats are held by the Liberal Democrats but were Conservative within the last decade – and in the case of North Shropshire, the last year.
Yes, there is a reason why this constituency may seem particularly familiar to avid followers of political scandals, by-election drama, and the Conservative Party’s habitual capacity for self-immolation. North Shropshire is, of course, the former seat of Owen Paterson. When he resigned his seat last year following a suspension from the Commons, the seat went yellow with current MP Helen Morgan.
The by-election last year took place in exceptionally grim circumstances for the Government, with headlines dominated by their chaotic u-turn over saving Paterson, and then by the drama of Partygate. Nevertheless, Morgan was elected on a swing of 34.1 percent from the Conservatives with a majority of 15.6 percent in what was formally a safe seat – the seventh largest by-election swing of all time.
All the more remarkably, North Shropshire was a seat that had voted to Leave in 2016. Perhaps we are finally moving on from Brexit. Or not, as the case of St Albans might suggest. Daisy Cooper won this from Anne Main (MP since 2005) in 2019, by increasing the Lib Dem vote share by 17.7 percent. In 2015, they had only received 18.5 percent of the vote.
What changed in between is that St Albans voted to Remain by 62.6 percent to 37.4 percent. Like Oxford West and Abingdon and Bath, it is thus a constituency where Tory popularity has been dented by Brexit. Which is a shame, as St Albans is lovely, with an excellent Roman museum, beautiful cathedral, and an art deco Café Rouge that I was taken to annually as a schoolboy for good exam results.
The hurdle to climb in both of these constituencies may seem imposing, with the selected candidate in St Albans facing a current majority of 10.9 percent. Nevertheless, neither should be insurmountable. One would hope that the result in North Shropshire suggests Brexit is no longer a live issue. And if Partygate is still a concern in 2024, then CCHQ has a far bigger problem than winning just these two seats.