The Tories retained Bexley and Sidcup last week without too much trouble, holding the longtime safe seat despite the government's current troubles. But now, another by-election looms in a Conservative stronghold, where a shock upset may be even more likely.
For next Thursday is the contest in North Shropshire to find Owen Paterson's replacement, following the former cabinet's minister resignation in a high-profile sleaze scandal. And Mr S hears there is considerable discontent now building on the ground amid anger in the Tory shires over recent party blunders, rising taxes and an anti-politics sentiment gaining ground.
In such circumstances, it's hardly a surprise then that the Reclaim party are hoping to mount a strong challenge here, potentially splitting the vote and paving the way for a Lib Dem triumph. Martin Daubney, the former Brexit party MEP and current Reclaim deputy leader, has been selected as Reclaim's candidate, with Laurence Fox among those hitting the campaign trail last week.
There's considerable unease in the local Conservatives about the candidate, barrister Neil Shastri-Hurst, with some refusing to campaign for him. Indeed such is the concern in Tory high command that two government big-hitters – Michael Gove and Boris Johnson himself – have been deployed to the seat which returned Paterson at the last election with a majority of more than 22,000.
And now Steerpike brings news of a fillip to Reclaim's cause: one of North Shropshire's Tory councillors, Anthony Allen, has defected to Reclaim, just ten days before the contest is held. Allen, who represents Market Drayton, has crossed the floor today to become Reclaim's first elected official. Citing concerns about the ongoing migration crisis, he told Mr S that 'the Conservatives simply aren't conservative any more.' He added that his former party has 'gone soft on illegal immigration, they've lost control of taxation and are obsessed with crippling green taxes nobody wants.'
His new leader Laurence Fox said in a statement that Reclaim aimed to mount a grassroots, 'Town Hall takeover' of Britain ahead of the next general election and issued a call to arms for 'any other dissatisfied councillors out there' to 'get in touch.' Fox added that: 'Anthony is our first councillor, but – watch this space – he won't be our last' with sources within the party suggesting that Reclaim has been approached by more than a dozen other councillors from across the country.
The Tories have held this seat and its predecessor Oswestry since 1906. Can they reclaim it come polling day?