Vote split could let Tories win in Mid-Bedfordshire, says John Curtice

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Labour and the Liberal Democrats could allow the Tories to win the Mid-Bedfordshire by-election by splitting the vote, according to polling guru Sir John Curtice.

Anti-Tory campaigners have called on opposition Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey to agree on a “non-aggression” pact in the blue-wall seat vacated by Nadine Dorries.

But tactical voting advocates fear that both parties determination to fight the election will see Rishi Sunak’s party hang on to the seat despite current unpopularity and local anger about Ms Dorries behaviour.

“If there is any by-election where the Tories can hold on to the seat amid difficult circumstances, it’s probably Mid-Bedfordshire, because both parties [Labour and the Lib Dems] are determined to fight the seat,” Prof Curtice told Politics Home.

The elections expert added: “The Tory vote could collapse but they could still hang on to it. So, perhaps the thing we should be looking at is not who wins, but by how much the Tory vote goes down.”

Tory peer and elections expert Lord Hayward also said Mr Sunak’s had a good chance of winning if the vote is split evenly between the two opposition parties.

Lord Hayward told The Independent: “You also have the potential for a split opposition vote, because Keir Starmer’s determination to prove he can appeal to all parts of the country has surprised the Lib Dems.”

Labour is hopeful of overturning Ms Dorries’ 24,000 majority, having come second in 2019 – ahead of the Lib Dems by 6,000 votes. But the Lib Dems also believe they can come from third, having done so in the recent Tiverton and Homerton by-elections.

Labour insist they are in “pole position” to gain momentum and defeat the Tories. But Lib Dem officials argue that there is a ceiling to the Labour vote in Mid-Bedfordshire because of the demographics in the rural constituency.

Tories could cling on despite anger over Nadine Dorries

(Getty Images)

The tactical voting advocates Compass have warned that the “ghost” of the recent Uxbridge by-election should loom large over Mid Bedfordshire” – pointing to the Tories hanging on despite Boris Johnson’s unpopularity.

The Lib Dems have told activists that Labour made a “huge campaigning error” by choosing Alistair Strathern as its candidate. Sir Ed’s party claims photos of him dressed as a zombie at a Greenpeace protest will be on “every single Conservative attack leaflet from now until polling day”.

But Labour has fired back by pointing out that Lib Dem candidate Emma Holland-Lindsay is a Greenpeace member, according to the register of interests.

Despite Ms Dorries’s formal resignation – 12 weeks after promising to do so – a “writ” for the byelection won’t be moved until parliament returns on 4 September. It looks most likely to take place in October after the Tory conference at the start of the month.

Mr Sunak said on Wednesday that he was “grateful” to Ms Dorries for her service as both an MP and a minister. The PM said he is “delighted” to support the Tories’ Mid Bedfordshire candidate Festus Akinbusoye, the local police and crime commissioner.

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