Labour and Lib Dem vote split could let Tories win in Mid Bedfordshire, says polling guru John Curtice

Sunak’s party ‘could still hang on’ despite vote collapse, says polling guru

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 30 August 2023 14:20 BST
Nadine Dorries resigns as MP

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

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

But advocates of tactical voting fear that the determination of both their parties to fight the election will see the Conservative Party hang on to the seat, despite its 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 Robert Hayward also said Rishi Sunak’s party had a good chance of winning if the vote were 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 Honiton by-election.

Labour insists it is 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.

Ed Davey and Keir Starmer have been urged to agree a deal in which one party would ease off campaigning in an effort to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote
Ed Davey and Keir Starmer have been urged to agree a deal in which one party would ease off campaigning in an effort to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote (Getty)

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 that photos of Mr Strathern 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, according to the register of interests, Lib Dem candidate Emma Holland-Lindsay is a member of Greenpeace.

Despite Ms Dorries having formally resigned – 12 weeks after promising to do so – a “writ” for the by-election 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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