North Shropshire isn’t Tatton, nor Chesham and Amersham

North Shropshire isn’t Tatton, nor Chesham and Amersham

If Owen Paterson had just accepted the suspension he’d almost be returning to the Commons by now. Instead, the attempt to save him from a recall petition has led to the largest stumble since Boris Johnson took office, weeks of critical headlines, and Paterson’s resignation anyway.

Now the Tories face a by-election while tied (or even behind) in the polls and in the unfamiliar position is being on the defensive. After Chesham and Amersham, could another true blue seat give the Tories a bloody nose? I’m skeptical, for a number of reasons:

Owen Paterson has left the stage

Given the circumstances, a number of people have looked to Tatton as holding parallels. In 1997 a prominent Tory, Neil Hamilton (now UKIP leader, incidentally), lost a super-safe seat to Martin Bell who ran as an anti-corruption independent. Labour and the Lib Dems openly considered standing aside for a similar candidate this time.

But North Shropshire isn’t Tatton. Paterson has resigned and isn’t fighting the by-election, robbing the opposition of the human lightning rod for them to campaign against. Additionally, Labour and the Lib Dems running, two parties who got 32% between them in 2019, the anti-Tory vote is unlikely to unify enough. The Greens (3% in 2019) are doing well nationally too, and might make some progress (though I suspect not).

North Shropshire isn’t Chesham & Amersham

There are safe seats, and then there are safe seats. Chesham & Amersham shocked many by voting in a Lib Dem in June on a 25% swing, and it undeniably was a stunning result. But the seat was known to hold a lot of Tory Remainers, a group which swung away from the party in 2019 and has shown less loyalty generally.

By contrast, North Shropshire is a 59.56% Leave seat – full of Tories who are much more sympathetic to the values which Boris Johnson has moved the party towards. It would take another 25% swing for the Lib Dems (and Labour are soft-pedalling the campaign while the Lib Dems are clearly going for it) to take the seat, but the ground isn’t as fertile for them.

There is a reason that the Lib Dems doubled their vote to 26% in Chesham & Amersham in 2019, but doubled to only 10% in North Shropshire. By-elections are their forte, but this seat isn’t nearly as suitable for another upset victory.

Being greedy when others are fearful

The Tories shouldn’t be complacent: Ed Davey has the party machine firmly focused on getting every ounce of swing they can out of this opportunity, with MPs visiting the seat constantly. The Lib Dems will doubtless leapfrog Labour, and may come a fairly strong second.

But there’s a difference between the current doldrums the Tories find themselves in, down from an 11.5% national lead in 2019 to rough parity now, and the sort of situation they faced in 1997 before losing Tatton. They are highly likely to hold on, and while the odds haven’t gotten too extreme (3/10 widely available) there is some value in backing them.

To top the value up, I’d recommend using the doubles markets some bookies have on the Tories winning both North Shropshire and Old Bexley and Sidcup (2/5 at Smarkets). There is no sign at all of an upset in the latter, so it’s very much the banker in your accumulator bet. The Lib Dems to beat Labour (1/5, Smarkets) is possibly value also, but I’d rather bet on the overall result.

Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on the Tories winning both by-elections at roughly 4/11, and on the Tories winning both with 10-15k majorities at 20/1. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts

Comments are closed.