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By Bishop of Leeds
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Lib Dems Win Tiverton And Honiton From Tories In A Historic By-Election Victory

4 min read

The Liberal Democrats have overturned the Conservative’s 24,000-strong majority in the “True Blue” seat of Tiverton and Honiton in a major by-election blow for the government.

The party’s candidate Richard Foord was announced the victor on Friday morning, marking the first time that the seat was not held by the Tories since its creation in 1997.

As many as 22,537 votes went to the Lib Dems, an almost 30 per cent swing in vote share, while Conservative candidate Helen Hurford came in second with 16,393 votes.

It is the third major scalp by Ed Davey’s party in the last year, following recent victories in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire.

In a double blow to the party, the Conservatives also lost Wakefield, where Labour won back the seat it had held for more than 80 years before losing it to the Tories in 2019.

Foord, a former Army Major, said the result had "sent a shockwave through British politics".

"Tonight, the people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for Britain. They’ve sent a loud and clear message: It’s time for Boris Johnson to go. And go now," he said. 

"Ours is a great country and there’s no greater part of it than Devon. But every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect.

"Yet when Boris Johnson could be fighting for farmers, for our NHS and for rural services, he’ll be fighting once again to save his own skin. I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: The Liberal Democrats are coming. 

"If you don’t take action to restore decency, respect and British values to Downing Street, you too will face election defeats like the one we have seen here tonight. It is time to do what’s right for our country. You know in your heart that your leader is not the person to lead this great nation into the future."

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: “The Liberal Democrats have made political history with this stunning win. It is the biggest by-election victory our country has ever seen.

“This should be a wake-up call for all those Conservative MPs propping up Boris Johnson. They cannot afford to ignore this result.

“The people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for the country. The public is sick of Boris Johnson’s lies and law breaking and it’s time for Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and sack him.”

The Labour candidate received so few votes they lost their deposit after the party did not campaign in the seat, clear evidence of a Liberal Democrat-Labour pact not to split the non-Tory vote. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats lost their deposit in Wakefield where Labour won.

The by-election was triggered after the seat’s former MP Neil Parish resigned following his admission that he watched pornography twice in the House of Commons.

He had held the seat since 2010, most recently winning it with a majority of 24,239 in the 2019 general election, representing 60.2 per cent of the vote share.

The Lib Dems had previously come third in the seat, placing behind Labour in the 2019, 2017 and 2015 general elections.

There had been suggestions that Labour and the Lib Dems had entered into an informal agreement ahead of the by-elections on Thursday to give each party a better chance at winning against the Tories.

PoliticsHome reported last month that senior Labour MPs had been told to step back from campaigning in Tiverton and Honiton to give the Lib Dems a better chance of victory.

A member of Labour’s front bench team confirmed to PoliticsHome that they have been told by senior party figures that they are “soft pedalling” the race in Tiverton and Honiton. 

A Labour spokesperson did not deny the tactic, but insisted they would put forward candidates to “fight for every vote” in both constituencies.

The Lib Dems had tried to play down their chances of victory ahead of the by-election, with party MP Sarah Olney telling PoliticsHome’s podcast The Rundown that the confident odds on them winning “do not reflect the size of the challenge in Tiverton”.

Last week, 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.

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