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Reform Anticipating "Best Result Yet" In Wellingborough By-Election

Reform Wellinborough by-election candidate Ben Habib (Alamy)

4 min read

The Reform party is hoping to seriously challenge the Conservatives in Thursday’s Wellingborough by-election, as it continues to target despondent Tory voters.

Voters in the East Midlands seat will go to the polls on Thursday to select a replacement for disgraced former Tory MP Peter Bone, and it could signal the latest in a series of by-election losses for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the last year. 

On the same day, voters in Kingswood will also vote for former Tory MP Chris Skidmore's replacement, after he resigned from Parliament in protest at the government's oil and gas policy. 

Bone was removed as Wellingborough's MP by recall petition, after an independent watchdog found that he carried out acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct. Helen Harrison, Bone’s partner, has been selected by the local Conservative Party as their candidate to contest the seat.

It is thought that Labour’s candidate, Gen Kitchen, could be on course to turn another Conservative patch red, when voters go to the polls this week, and while Reform doesn't expect to throw Labour off course, there is a growing confidence that they could significantly eat into the Conservative vote share. 

Reform’s co-deputy leader, Ben Habib is standing in the seat for the right-wing party, which has been encouraged by the response they have got on the doorstep in the seat. Activists have particularly noticed that the party – which has only existed in its current form since 2021 – is beginning to get recognition from voters on the doorstep. 

One Reform source told PoliticsHome that people have increasingly heard of them, but they “can’t pretend that was the case in other by-elections”. 

It is understood that the party is starting to believe the result on Thursday could be their best to date. 

Since 2021 the party that was originally founded as the Brexit party in 2018 has seen their best Westminster election results in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election in 2021 where they received 6.6 per cent of the vote, and in the Tamworth by-election where they took 5.4 per cent.

Reform figures are confident that they will receive at least 5 per cent of the vote in Wellingborough and keep their deposit, and have eyes on getting closer to their national polling numbers of around 10 per cent.

For the Conservatives, the focus will now be on ensuring that their voter base even turns up at polling stations on Thursday. In the Tamworth by-election in October, Reform won more votes (1,373) than the majority Labour MP Sarah Edwards secured over Conservative Andrew Cooper (1,316). 

The Tory vote staying at home has been cited as a problem for the party previously. In October, following the two by-election losses in Tamworth and in Mid-Bedfordshire on the same day, junior minister Andrew Bowie told Sky News that people “just were not prepared to come out and vote for us". 

He added: "Throughout history, by-elections have been an opportunity for people to cast a protest vote or to stay at home and not engage in the process. I'm quite sure that's what happened.” 

Habib has previously told PoliticsHome that the current government “has been an utter disaster, they must therefore be booted out”.

Tory campaigners believe that issues of illegal immigration and Sunak’s promise to stop small boat crossings are of prime importance to their target voter. Canvassers have been hoping to convey the same sentiment that was shared by Sunak during a Q&A with voters on GB News earlier this week; that a vote for anybody but the Tories helps Labour's Keir Starmer towards Downing Street. 

Answering questions in County Durham on Monday evening, the Prime Minister was challenged by a voter who has been considering voting for Richard Tice’s party.

Sunak responded that the election will be a “straightforward choice” for the Tories if they don't want to see a Labour government. 

Voters in Wellingborough and Kingswood, near Bristol, will both go to the polls in by-elections on Thursday. 

Sunak is facing the loss of another two previously safe Tory seats. While Bone held a majority of more than 18,000, Labour overturned majorities that were larger in Selby and Ainsty and Mid-Bedfordshire last year. 

Skidmore had been the MP for Kingswood since 2010 and had a majority of more than 11,000 in 2019. 

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