MPs Say It's “Absolute Nonsense” To Say Tories Are Worried About Bexley By-Election
The Conservative party is confident they’ll hold Old Bexley and Sidcup in a by-election on Thursday, despite reports that there were “jitters” in the party.
Old Bexley and Sidcup has been a ‘True Blue’ seat since its formation in 1983, returning only Tory MPs, and the area was once represented by Prime Minister Ted Heath for over 50 years.
It was held by former minister James Brokenshire at four successive elections — most recently in 2019 with a 19,000-strong majority — but a by-election was triggered after his death from cancer earlier this year. Bexley constituents will elect his successor on Thursday.
Dozens of MPs and ministers, including prime minister Boris Johnson, have been pictured alongside candidate Louie French in the South East London seat.
There were suggestions that the influx of high-profile support was a sign of disquiet within the party about its prospects, especially in the wake of the ongoing sleaze scandal.
But Tory MPs sent to campaign in the seat have been quick to dismiss these claims, insisting that they’re confident that French will be joining them in the Commons within the next few weeks.
“I've seen various media stories suggesting all the Tories are terribly worried about Bexley because we've got MPs going down there. It's complete nonsense,” one MP told PoliticsHome.
They insisted it was normal for MPs and ministers to be asked to show their face multiple times on the campaign trail, and that the proximity of the seat to Parliament made this a lot easier.
“This by-election is an easy one for MPs to go to because you get on a train at Charing Cross and half an hour later you're in Sidcup which is right in the middle of the constituency,” they added.
The mood among campaigners was described as “pretty positive” by one Tory member, who said that people on the ground had been “working really hard down there”.
“I only saw one other campaigning group and that was [Reform UK’s] Richard Tice. There was a big turn out of MPs on the day I went and everyone seemed confident,” they added.
Several Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members have also been pictured supporting Daniel Francis, candidate for the by-election, but some Tory MPs said they hadn’t seen much showing from the opposition.
One said the only sign of Labour was some leaflets left on doorsteps, while another campaigner said they hadn’t seen a single opposition canvasser in ten visits to the area.
One constituency campaigner claimed that French, the Tory candidate, was “mentored” by Brokenshire, and was seen by many as the natural choice to run for the seat.
A local to the area, French has been a councillor for eight years and was formerly deputy leader of Bexley council.
This has reportedly put him in good stead with local businesses, as French was responsible for overseeing coronavirus support for businesses in the area at the height of the pandemic.
“He's a great local candidate. He's got a proven track record from his time as a counsellor,” said Gareth Bacon, Tory MP for the neighbouring constituency of Orpington.
“He's liked and respected by those he had to deal with as a counsellor, including many of the local businesses, some of whom have been willing to display Louie French posters in their shop windows, which is very unusual.
“He's the firm choice of the local association, and I have every confidence that he'll be joining me in Parliament next week.”
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