Labour and Lib Dems Play Down Chances Of Defeating Tories In Double By-Election
A senior Lib Dem MP has played down the party's chances of winning an unlikely victory in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election next month (Alamy)
The Liberal Democrats and Labour are seeking to play down their chances of ousting the Tories from seats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton at two by-elections next week, despite odds being in favour of both opposition parties.
In what would be a stunning victory, Ed Davey’s Lib Dems are thought to be on course to overturn a majority of more than 24,000 to win their third seat from the Conservatives in a year, after recently overturning majorities of 16,000 and 23,000 in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire.
But Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney, who famously won a by-election herself when she unseated Tory minister Zac Goldsmith in 2016, said the odds “do not reflect the size of the challenge in Tiverton”. She said a Lib Dem win in Tiverton would need the the biggest swing in a by-election since the Tories were defeated in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935.
“We are having a really good campaign, there's a lot of support for us on the doorsteps, we've got a wonderful candidate and it was a real pleasure to spend some time with him yesterday," Olney told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown.
“There's a lot of people who voted Tory in 2019 who just don't want to vote Tory this time round in this by election, they feel very let down.”
On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that internal polling by the Lib Dems suggested the party was still marginally trailing the Conservatives, and they planned to flood the east Devon seat with activists in the final week before voters head to the polls.
A by-election is being held in Wakefield next Thursday, after the former MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being convicted of sexual assault.
The seat was previously held by Labour for decades until the Conservatives won it for the first time in 2019. Winning it back has become a key test for whether the party’s leader Keir Starmer is taking the party forward.
Labour is widely expected to win comfortably in the west Yorkshire constituency, with some bookmakers offering odds of 1/100 in their favour.
But Labour MP for Barnsley East Stephanie Peacock said it was not a foregone conclusion that Labour would take it back.
“What I'd say about Wakefield is it's been written up by the media as this sort of post-industrial “Red Wall” seat,” she told PoliticsHome.
“Actually, it's always been pretty marginal. At the last election, the majority was the biggest majority any winning candidate has had in that seat since 2005, and I think it was just over 1,000 in 2010.”
Peacock, a shadow minister, pointed to the fact various parts of the seat “regularly return Conservative councillors”.
“I think we've also got to remember that Labour has only won one seat back at a by-election in the last 25 years, that’s the context in which this is taking place,” she added.
A poll by JL Partners for The Sunday Times a fortnight ago predicted the Conservatives are heading for a potentially catastrophic defeat in Wakefield, putting Labour 20 points ahead of them.
Peacock was wary of the constituency polling, however, which she believed is “always notoriously a little bit unreliable”. She cited surveys ahead of the Heywood and Middleton by-election in 2014 that put Labour 19 points ahead, only to see them hold the seat by just 617 votes.
“I think the only poll that matters is next week,” she added.
“We are certainly hearing positive stories on the doorstep, we are hearing people coming back to Labour, and we are hearing people feel really let down down with this government.
“People have got the opportunity to really send a message to the government, to Boris Johnson, that they aren't happy with them."
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