THE Tories face losing a crucial by-election in their heartlands as voters head to the polls today in North Shropshire with Boris Johnson opting to stay away from the campaign.

Owen Paterson took the seat for the Conservatives with a whopping 23,000 majority in December 2019 but it is at risk of switching to the LibDems amid ongoing turmoil in ­Downing Street.

Paterson, who was found to have breached lobbying rules, resigned last month amid a parliamentary sleaze scandal, with the Tories’s popularity among voters hit further by ­Johnson’s “Peppa Pig” speech to the CBI and ­reports over Christmas ­parties at Downing Street last year during ­lockdown.

Last night LibDem Leader Ed Davey said the by-election is now a “coin toss” between his party and the Conservatives.

READ MORE: The LibDems are at it again with their latest election leaflet

The LibDems knocked on over 23,000 doors last weekend with more than 1000 volunteers on the ground during the final week.

On eve of the poll yesterday LibDem candidate Helen Morgan was joined on the campaign trail by five of the party’s MPs.

The Prime Minister has not returned to the Conservative safe seat, which the Tories held at the last general election with a 23,000 majority, since December 3. Tory sources have said that he has been dealing with the outbreak of the omicron variant. In contrast, Sir Ed Davey has spent 10 days on the campaign trail, including five overnight stays.

The party believes the seat is on a “knife-edge” between the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

Even a close second for the party would deal a major further blow to Johnson’s authority in what should be one of the safest Conservative seats in the country.

Davey (below) said: “This crucial by-election is now a coin toss between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The National: Sir Ed Davey. Picture by UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

“Throughout this campaign, lifelong Conservative voters have told us they are switching to the Liberal Democrats because they are tired of being taken for granted by Boris Johnson.

“People in North Shropshire and around the country deserve a fair deal where everyone plays by the same rules – including those in Downing Street.

“We know that every vote today will count, and that the future direction of the country is at stake. If Labour and Green voters lend us their support, we can deal a hammer blow to Boris Johnson and tell him that the party is over.”

Morgan said: “Today, thousands of voters in North Shropshire have a chance to send a message to Boris Johnson’s incompetent government by voting Liberal Democrat.

“Residents in North Shropshire just want a fair deal where their ambulance service crisis is solved, farmers are backed and the area is no longer taken for granted.

“We have a once in a generation chance to send a message to the Government today to end the decades of Conservatives taking us for granted, we should take our opportunity.”

Johnson suffered the biggest rebellion of his leadership on Tuesday night as 101 Conservative MPs voted against plans for Covid passes and some of them openly questioned his future.

Almost half of Tory backbenchers voted against new curbs that will require people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test at large indoor venues across England, leaving the PM reliant on Labour’s support.

The rebellion — which was far bigger than No 10 expected — came from all wings of the party, and included 13 former cabinet ministers and 26 MPs elected in 2019.

One Tory who was elected a fortnight ago as the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup was among those who rebelled. A further 17 abstained, including Theresa May, the former Prime Minister. Some Tory MPs have privately suggested that losing North Shropshire would be the final nail in the coffin for Johnson’s leadership.