Parties may stand aside to let anti-sleaze candidate challenge Tories

Opposition parties could stand aside to allow a Martin Bell-style anti-sleaze candidate to take on the Tories in Owen Paterson’s vacated North Shropshire seat, sources reveal

  • Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens are all in discussions about stepping aside
  • Some say it’s a ‘sensible idea’ but others are concerned over the practicalities 
  • Mr Bell beat Tory Neil Hamilton in 1997 after other parties agreed not to stand

Opposition parties could stand aside to allow an independent anti-sleaze candidate to take on the Tories in Owen Paterson’s vacated seat, it was claimed last night.

Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens are all reportedly in discussions about clearing the way for a Martin Bell-style to have a free run at the North Shropshire constituency.

Mr Bell, a former BBC war correspondent, challenged Tory incumbent Neil Hamilton for the Conservative stronghold of Tatton in Cheshire in 1997 after other major parties agreed not to stand.

The broadcaster won as an independent on an anti-sleaze ticket with a majority of more than 11,000. 

Owen Paterson resigned as MP for North Shropshire on Thursday amid a sleaze scandal which has rocked Westminster

Martin Bell (right), a former BBC war correspondent, challenged Tory incumbent Neil Hamilton (left) for the Conservative stronghold of Tatton in Cheshire in 1997 after other major parties agreed not to stand

But while a Labour source told the BBC it would be a ‘sensible idea’ for the parties to avoid splitting the non-Tory vote, others at the heart of the discussion were concerned by the prospect.

‘The technicalities of having an independent candidate that opposition parties get behind are, frankly, a complete nightmare,’ a Lib Dem source said.

Talks between the opposition parties are understood to have been held yesterday to consider their approach to the by-election in the traditional Tory safe seat. 

Mr Paterson has held the North Shropshire constituency since 1997 and secured 62.7 per cent of the vote in 2019. 

The by-election is one of three the Tories are having to contest in the coming months, with new MPs also needed to replace the late James Brokenshire and the murdered Sir David Amess.  

No date has yet been set for the North Shropshire by-election.

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