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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Liberal Democrats Win Somerton And Frome By-Election, Overturning Huge Tory Majority

Sarah Dyke will be Somerton and Frome's new Liberal Democrat MP (Alamy)

4 min read

The Liberal Democrats have overturned a Conservative majority of more than 19,000 in the Somerton and Frome by-election, delivering a blow to the government as it looks ahead to its prospects at the next general election.

Sarah Dyke was the Lib Dems' candidate who will be Somerton and Frome's new Member of Parliament. 

The Lib Dems won 21,187 votes and 54.6 per cent of the vote compared to the Conservatives who picked up 10,179 votes and just 26.2 per cent of the vote share. Labour came a distant fifth with 1,009 votes - behind the Green Party with 3,944 votes and Reform UK with 1,303.

Ed Davey's party enjoyed a 28.4 per cent swing and now has a majority of more than 11,000. 

Somerton and Frome had been a Tory stronghold at the last general election, after the party won a majority of 19,213. 

In her victory speech, Dyke thanked “lifelong Conservative voters have today voted Liberal Democrat for the first time".

“Instead of an absent Conservative MP letting you down, you have an active Liberal Democrat MP lifting you up. So to the mother in Milborne Port who told me how she couldn’t get a dentist appointment for her children, I hear you, and I will fight for you.

“To the man who told me how his elderly mother sat on the floor for thirteen hours waiting for an ambulance to arrive, I hear you, and I will fight for you. To the amazing farmers of Somerset, the custodians of our countryside: You are my family. I hear you, and I will fight for you.

“And to all of you seeing your energy bills, mortgage payments and food shop go up and up, with no end in sight, I hear you, and I will fight for you. To everyone here in Somerton and Frome, no matter how you voted in this election, I hear you, and I will fight for you.

She criticised the former MP, David Warburton, who lost the Conservative whip last year allegations of cocaine use and sexual harassment, which he denied. 

Following the result, Davey said the Lib Dems are "firmly back in the West Country" having also overturned a sizeable Conservative majority in a by-election in nearby Tiverton and Honiton last year. 

“This stunning victory shows the Liberal Democrats are firmly back in the West Country," Davey said. 

“The people of Somerton and Frome have spoken for the rest of the country who are fed up with Rishi Sunak’s out-of-touch Conservative government.”

The Conservatives have held Somerton and Frome since 2015 when former MP Warburton won the seat from Liberal Democrat MP David Heath.

The Liberal Democrats have form for winning seats from the Tories in by-elections: only last year, they overturned the Conservative’s 24,000-strong majority in Tiverton and Honiton, as well as winning two by-elections in 2021.

While the contests in Uxbridge and Selby were considered a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Labour, Somerton gave the Lib Dems a chance to flex their campaigning muscles ahead of a likely general election in 2024. 

The Lib Dems won Somerset County Council from the Tories in last year’s local elections, and the party ran a confident by-election campaign with local candidate Sarah Dyke, who is well-known in the area. 

The new MP for Somerton and Frome was previously a local councillor and is from a farming family who have lived in the area for generations. Her appeal, it seems, largely stems from her knowledge and understanding of the local area, which some residents felt Warburton lacked.

Many lifelong Conservative voters switched their allegiance for this by-election, highlighting frustration with the Conservative government and local party over the cost of living crisis, failures to address a number of local issues, and sleaze in Westminster.

“I've always been a staunch Conservative. Those days are gone,” 80-year-old pensioner Bennett, who declined to give his last name, told PoliticsHome the week before the polling day.

He said he would “probably” vote for the Lib Dems as he did not believe the Conservatives “get things done” anymore. “It’s all a bit lethargic,” he added. 

There was a wide-ranging sense of apathy among residents in the lead up to the by-election, with many feeling let down by both local and national politics. 

“What’s the point?” one man shouted in frustration when asked by PoliticsHome who he would vote for. 

“The NHS has gone down the pan, they are not paying people their true worth, financially we're on the brink of disaster, cost of living through the roof, rent through the roof,” another resident said in exasperation.

At the next general election, Somerton and Frome will be split into two constituencies as part of national boundary changes – making it difficult to predict whether the Liberal Democrats can translate their by-election win into a general election triumph.

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