Can The Tories Defy The Polls And Hold On In Today's Crucial By-Elections?

The party is defending two safe seats - but Labour and the Lib Dems are aiming to pile more misery on Rishi Sunak.
Voters in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth go to the polls today.
Voters in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth go to the polls today.
Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

The world’s attention has understandably been focused on the Middle East in recent days, and is likely to remain so for some time to come.

But two by-elections on Thursday have the potential to be much more politically significant for Rishi Sunak.

The Tories are defending two nominally safe seats, in Mid Bedforshire and Tamworth.

It is no exaggeration to say that, were the Conservatives to lose both of them, the party could swiftly go into meltdown.

In Mid Beds, the Tories are defending a 25,000 majority, while in Tamworth, the party won the seat in 2019 by 20,000 votes. On paper at least, they should be unassailable.

But given the government’s unpopularity, and the circumstances which led to the by-elections, both Labour and the Lib Dems still hold out hopes of causing an upset.

The contest in Mid Bedfordshire has been caused by the resignation of Nadine Dorries after she was denied the peerage promised to her by Boris Johnson.

In Tamworth, meanwhile, sitting MP Chris Pincher quit amid allegations of sexual misconduct which saw him suspended from the Commons for eight weeks.

Tory hopes of hanging on in Mid Beds have been boosted by an extraordinary war of words between Labour and the Lib Dems.

Both parties insist they are best placed to win, leading to the very real possibility of the anti-Tory vote being split, thereby allowing Conservative candidate Festus Akinbusoye to get elected.

Tamworth is a straight shoot-out between the Tories and Labour, who are odds-on favourites with the bookies.

Nevertheless, Labour insiders insist the prospect of winning either seat is a “moonshot”.

One shadow cabinet member told HuffPost UK: “They’re two very safe Tory seats and it would take a miracle for Labour to win either. Mid Beds is a genuine three way split, but still a real long shot.”

Shadow science, innovation and technology secretary Peter Kyle, who is Labour’s campaign co-ordinator in the seat, said: “I think objectively anybody looking at all of the campaigns would rather be in our position than the others, but this is unlike anything I’ve experienced and uncertainties are constantly lurking.”

But another Labour MP said: “Mid Beds is the Tories for the keeping - no chance of that turning red.

“And to be quite honest, we don’t need it anyway. It’s not a target seat of ours and this isn’t a general election. If anything, it’s amusing that the Tories will frame it as a big win when all they’ve done is keep a seat that is already theirs.”

Labour sources insist winning in Tamworth - where Pincher received 68% of the vote at the last election - would be an even bigger achievement than the party’s stunning victory in Selby and Ainsty in July.

But a senior Tory MP told HuffPost: “I reckon our chances are poor in Tamworth because of how grim Chris Pincher’s reason for leaving was. I think people will punish the party for what he did and vote against us as a protest for all the sleaze we’ve seen in recent years.”

And a Labour MP said: “We do feel good about Tamworth. We know we have the power to overturn such huge majorities, as we’ve done it before.

“This seat in particular often reflects wider politics. It was Labour under Blair and Brown, Tory after that. And now, reflecting how well Labour are doing in the polls, I think that trend will continue.“

Defeat for the Tories would be as much of a psychological blow as an electoral one.

It’s the constituency of former Conservative prime minister Robert Peel, who in 1834 published the Tamworth Manifesto, which paved the way for the modern-day Tory Party.

One Labour MP dispensed with the usual pre-by-election caution and predicted a glory night for the party.

We’ve got both seats in the bag,” the MP said. “It doesn’t matter where the constituency is, or its history - the public want a change and are fed up of Tory lies.

“Their loyal voters are doubting them too, and we will see that on Thursday.”


What's Hot