Owen Paterson: Opposition parties may not run in by-election as fallout continues

5 November 2021, 05:56 | Updated: 5 November 2021, 06:39

Owen Paterson resigned as an MP on Thursday
Owen Paterson resigned as an MP on Thursday. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Opposition parties such as Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens may not run in the North Shropshire by-election and would consider uniting behind an independent, "anti-sleaze" candidate, it has been claimed.

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It would mirror a similar move made during the 1997 general election, where journalist Martin Bell took on - and defeated - Conservative candidate Neil Hamilton after an "anti-sleaze" campaign for the seat of Tatton in Cheshire.

However Labour sources have said no "official" talks have taken place yet.

North Shropshire is considered a safe Conservative seat, with Owen Paterson having a comfortable majority of almost 23,000 in the last general election.

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The Cabinet minister quit as an MP on Thursday rather than face the prospect of being suspended from Parliament for 30 sitting days for an alleged breach of lobbying rules.

The senior Tory announced his resignation after the Prime Minister was forced to abandon a plan to prevent Mr Paterson's immediate suspension by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system.

The controversial plan was backed by almost 250 Tory MPs on Wednesday, although there was a sizable rebellion and by Thursday morning the Government was forced into a U-turn, blaming a lack of cross-party support.

The farcical series of events have led to some Tories pointing the finger of blame at Chief Whip Mark Spencer, although Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson had confidence in him and the "excellent job" he was doing.

Former chief whip Mark Harper who was one of 13 Tories to vote against the plans on Wednesday, said the affair was "one of the most unedifying episodes" he has seen during his 16 years in Parliament and appeared to blame Mr Johnson.

"My colleagues should not have been instructed, from the very top, to vote for this," he said.

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The fallout has continued into Friday morning, with MPs set to hold an emergency debate on Monday on the consequences of this week's events in the Commons.

Before the Government's U-turn and Mr Paterson's subsequent resignation, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng suggested the result of the vote calling for reform of the Commons standards regime had put Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone's position in doubt.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has demanded an investigation into whether those comments breached the Ministerial Code which calls for "consideration and respect" and for "proper and appropriate" working relationships with parliamentary staff.

In a letter to the independent adviser on ministers' interests Lord Geidt, Ms Rayner said: "For the Business Secretary to use this entirely corrupt process to bully the independent Parliamentary Commissioner is disgusting."

Mr Paterson faced a vote on his suspension after he was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

He had always maintained his innocence but said he was resigning because "I am unable to clear my name under the current system" and due to a desire to spare his family any more suffering after his wife Rose took her own life in 2020.

Mr Johnson said he was "very sad" that Mr Paterson was standing down after a "distinguished career".