What do the Conservatives need to do now after losing North Shropshire

Foundations of a progressive alliance?

The Conservative Party will no doubt be searching its soul over the next few days for the reasons they fell to such a disastrous result in North Shropshire. This is the second time in six months they have seen a seat deemed ‘safe’ fall to a huge swing against them. And in many ways, North Shropshire is even more worrying than Chesham & Amersham.

In the UK, the First-Past-The-Post electoral system allows voters to determine who they are willing to live with, as well as who they want to vote for. Tactical voting is often used to describe this phenomenon and in by-elections, “lending your vote” is common. There is a huge third party to second party swing occurring across the country and this will be a major factor in the coming general election. It is not yet possible, before we have the Marked Register, to determine exactly how impactful this was in this by-election, but we are aware of many campaigns that specifically focused on increasing the Liberal Democrat vote from a variety of different organisations.

In the Buckinghamshire seat, the electorate had backed remaining in the EU, the Liberal Democrats were in a good second place at the general election and the Labour Party was conspicuous only by its absence from the campaign. College Green Group’s analysis of that result, after adjusting for the fall in turnout, suggests that as many as 4,900 people, who had voted Conservative at the general election switched to the Liberal Democrats. That is on the basis of a straight-line adjustment to turnout for all parties, and whilst it is likely that voters who had voted for other parties in the general election turned out more enthusiastically, so that figure is likely to be smaller. But if not, that is equivalent to almost 16% of the Conservatives’ general election votes.

Shellshock from Shropshire

Running a similar analysis on North Shropshire shows that the result here was much worse. Using the same straight-line adjustment to turnout and switching all remaining available votes for other parties to the Liberal Democrats, suggests that almost 13,000 people who had voted Conservative in the general election, switched to the Liberal Democrats, more than a third of the Conservatives’ general election vote. And that is in a seat which voted to leave the EU, and where the Labour Party ran a vigorous campaign having been placed second at the general election with theirs and the Liberal Democrat vote shares almost the inverse of what they were in Chesham & Amersham.

It is absolutely clear that the voters of North Shropshire wanted to give the Conservatives a good kicking. And they did. Unlike the result in Old Bexley & Sidcup two weeks ago, where a popular local MP had tragically died of cancer, In North Shropshire, the resignation of a ‘Grandee’ MP, mired in allegations of sleaze, two weeks of media dominated by illegal Tory parties and a general sense of incompetence from Number 10, clearly persuaded a huge number of normally loyal Tories to swing the size nines.

With a possible by-election in Windsor, which could result in this 20,000 majority Conservative seat coming up in another by-election, what do the Conservatives need to do to combat this? Clearly, changes have to start at the top. A firmer grip of the agenda from Number 10, so that things like sewage, social care contributions and manifesto-busting tax rises don’t present open goals to the opposition and media, is essential. A Prime Minister that addresses the nation with his hair combed and a straight tie and smart suit, would also help. But what can they do from a campaigning perspective?

The first thing is to understand the problem. From the raw results, it is impossible to say what voters actually did. So go and ask them. Every party will have data on who voted yesterday within a few weeks. They should also have that data for the general election. They can quickly speak to a representative sample and get a better understanding of what happened.

We would want to try to learn how many people who voted Conservative in 2019 stayed at home, and how many of them switched to the Liberal Democrats. I’d also want to know the answers to those questions from people who voted Labour and Green as well. Though interestingly in the North Shropshire election, the Green’s relative vote share went up, as did that of the Reform/UKIP/Reclaim group of candidates who were attacking the Conservatives from the right.

Gathering the right data now in Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire will pay dividends in the General Election, which will come in the next two and a half years. It isn’t a very long time and if constituencies in a similar position to Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire want to gather this kind of information, the sooner they start, the better.

College Green Group can help you to gather and analyse the necessary data, develop the surveys you need to undertake, define the audiences you need to speak to and analyse and present the results. We can go on to help you define the strategy needed to recover those lost votes and return your candidates in the next election.

Please call or email us today if you would like our support.