In Shropshire’s northernmost market town of Whitchurch, most locals out shopping or running errands welcomed the news that their long-standing MP Owen Paterson had resigned.
Paterson, who faced a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons and potential by-election for an “egregious” breach of the advocacy rules, announced he would step down just hours after Downing Street made a humiliating U-turn on Thursday and withdrew support from an attempt to protect him.
Many of his constituents thought it was only right Paterson, who was first elected in 1997 and has stood as MP for North Shropshire in the 24 years since, should accept the consequences of his actions.
Alan Lomas, waiting outside a gift shop, said he was happy the MP was going but said he should have resigned days ago. “He has complained he was badly treated [by the committee who investigated his lobbying activity] but they seem to have followed the rules to the letter. It’s not like there were no Tories on the committee.
“If the rules need changing, they need changing but you don’t change rules just because the rules you’ve got don’t suit your guy. That’s not the way to do it.”
Lomas says he hasn’t lived in the town long but had heard Paterson hasn’t been admired as much as the previous MP, John Biffen, who was someone who would “walk down the high street and say hello to everyone whereas Paterson is seen as more aloof”. This is an opinion echoed by others The Guardian spoke to, with one gentleman who asked not to be named saying: “He’s been much more for the farmers rather than the working-class folk.”
On the other side of the hilly high street, Sheila Stuart, out walking her dog, responded with a resounding “good” when told he’d announced his resignation. “What he has done is totally corrupt,” she said.
She points out that the sprawling rural area Paterson represents is a very safe Conservative seat. In fact he won in 2019 with a whopping majority of 22,949. The seat was first created in 1832, but was abolished in 1885 before being reformed almost 100 years later in 1983, and in both periods it has always sent a Tory MP to Westminster.
“I have a horrible feeling it will stay Tory,” said Stuart. “It’s been Tory forever and I just can’t see it will change. I saw an idea about everyone else standing down and just one anti-corruption candidate standing, which is maybe a good idea.
Outside a homeware shop, Ann Garrett hadn’t heard the news Paterson had chosen to stand down and was surprised. “I thought he was going to get away with it if I’m honest. I did think he should resign but I didn’t think he’d do it.”
Garrett said she thought Paterson wasn’t the only one using their influence and being paid by companies. “I think people are angry both at Owen and at the Conservatives. I wouldn’t have voted for him again because I don’t trust him now.”
Her friend, who asked not to be named, added that she found the news “really sad”. She added: “Back in the day, he used to be very involved. He would always knock on our door but he hasn’t done that for a while. I think what happened was that he got a little complacent.”
She isn’t the only one to feel conflicted. Angela Hannigan said Paterson tried to help her with a problem she was facing. “He tried to help but his hands were tied. He did reply really rapidly. I’ve been trying to avoid the news. I just thought he was so good with me that I didn’t want to see what he has been doing but I don’t agree with corruption either.”
She said any MP found to have been corrupt should be fired, adding: “At the end of the day, they are supposed to be looking after us and all they are thinking about is themselves.”
Retiree George Edge, who was waiting for his wife outside Boots, said he thought Paterson had “been a bit of a lad”. He pointed out how quiet the town is and how many shops are boarded up, saying it used to be “buzzing”. He thought it might be good for the area to get someone new in.
“We’ve lived here for 13 years and he’s always been the MP,” he said. “Fresh blood might be good. You never know.”