Little Sign Of A Labour-Lib Dem Truce In The Race To Succeed Tory Nadine Dorries
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey campaigning in Mid Bedfordshire (Alamy)
Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats are showing signs of making way for one another as campaigning gets underway in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election, setting up a three-way contest to succeed the outgoing former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries.
The seat, which has voted Tory in every general election since 1931, will play host to one of three intriguing by-elections this summer, triggered by the resignations from the House of Commons of former prime minister Boris Johnson, plus his allies Dorries and Nigel Adams.
While the constituency in southeast of England has been represented by Conservatives for nearly a century, and the current Tory majority there being over 24,000, the two opposition parties insist it is up for grabs. With Labour heavily favoured to win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Johnson), and eyeing victory in Selby and Ainsty (Adams), too, a defeat in Mid Bedfordshire would potentially compound a miserable night for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he tries to revive the Tory party's severely damaged brand ahead of the 2024 general election.
The Labour Party finished second in Mid Bedfordshire in 2019, winning 22% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats were significantly further behind on around 13%.
Despite this, the Lib Dems say the seat is another example of a traditionally Tory, rural area in the so-called 'blue wall' where they are best placed to win, having enjoyed major victories in similar seats like Tiverton and Honiton. The party led by Ed Davey took Tiverton and Honiton from the Conservatives last year on a huge swing of nearly 30%, and would require a smaller - but nevertheless very large - swing of nearly 24% to triumph in Mid Bedfordshire.
Davey has already visited the constituency twice since Dorries announced her resignation, and the party claims its activists knocked on over 10,000 houses over the weekend. "It's the fastest start we’ve ever had to a by-election," a party source told PoliticsHome.
The party is calling on Labour higher ups to think carefully about how hard they campaign in Mid Bedfordshire, claiming that Keir Starmer's party risks splitting the anti-Tory vote and helping the Conservatives keep it in their grasp. “Labour need to think about where they spend their resources and what their priorities are,” said one Lib Dem source.
Speaking to The Guardian, Davey said there was no prospect of him and Starmer agreeing that one will go easy to help the other unseat the Tories. “We’d have a civil conversation. But I know he wouldn’t ask me to make a pact because he knows we’ll fight just as hard," he said.
Labour figures - both in public and in private - say they are not going to go easy in Mid Bedfordshire. "We are throwing everything at it," said one source. "We're fortunate that we are gearing up to fight a general election, so we're not lacking in resources on the ground."
They said that likening the contest there to last year's race in Tiverton and Honiton was "premature", not least because neighbouring constituencies like Luton South and Bedford are already controlled by Labour and the party is currently projected to take nearby Milton Keynes from the Conservatives at the next general election.
Labour is less bullish than the the Lib Dems, however, with insiders stressing it will be a big ask to turn the seat red for the first time in its history.
Labour's campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood and Chair Anneliese Dodds campaigned in the seat over the weekend, with the other senior members of the shadow cabinet who will visit the constituency in the coming weeks currently being finalised.
The Labour MP for Luton South Rachel Hopkins, who is coordinating the campaign in Mid Bedfordshire, said: "We’ve knocked on thousands of doors already and the message we’re getting from residents in places like Flitwick and Lower Stondon is that after 13 years of this failed Tory government, they’re sick of being taken for granted.
"Nadine Dorries only voted six times in 2023, and five of those votes were on the same day. The people of Mid Bedfordshire want a full-time, hard working MP who puts their needs first, and that’s exactly what the Labour Party will be offering them in this by-election."
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