Tories face biggest by-election defeat in British history in Nadine Dorries seat

Nadine Dorries announced on June 9 that she planned to trigger a by-election in Mid Bedfordshire
Nadine Dorries announced on June 9 that she planned to trigger a by-election in Mid Bedfordshire - Leon Neal/Getty

The Conservatives are on course for the biggest by-election defeat in British history in Mid Bedfordshire, according to a poll that will cause panic among Tory MPs.

A survey by Opinium found that Labour would overturn Nadine Dorries’ 24,664 majority in a seat that has been held by the Tories since 1931.

The defeat would shock many Conservative MPs, raising the prospect that other seats thought to be “safe” may now be at risk.

Recent national polls have given Labour a lead of more than 20 points, amid soaring inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Sunak said he had inherited “the worst-possible in-tray for a new job that anyone could imagine”.

Tories expected to hold seat

While many MPs had factored in by-election defeats in seats with smaller majorities, such as Boris Johnson’s former Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, senior party figures expected to hold Mid Bedfordshire, which has been represented by Ms Dorries since 2005.

Last week, Ms Dorries confirmed that she will be “gone long before the next election”, having announced on June 9 that she planned to trigger a by-election.

Labour commissioned the Opinium poll last month following anecdotal reports by canvassers that voters appeared to be deserting the Conservatives in vast numbers.

Peter Kyle, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, who won Hove from the Conservatives in 2015 and is running Labour’s campaign in Mid Bedfordshire, said: “The community here is fleeing the Tories but they haven’t fully chosen their destination yet. There’s no complacency here for Labour but it’s just a massive, unprecedented and historic opportunity.”

Campaigning has begun

The Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all selected candidates who began campaigning in the seat last month, along with Gareth Mackey, a prominent independent councillor on Central Bedfordshire Council.

The poll put the Conservative candidate Festus Akinbusoye on 24 per cent, Labour on 28 per cent, and the Lib Dems on 15 per cent. Mr Mackey picked up 19 per cent among those who selected a candidate, while Reform UK’s candidate, David Holland, was on 10 per cent.

Last year, Boris Johnson was subjected to the biggest by-election defeat in British history as the Lib Dems overturned the Tories 24,239 majority in Tiverton and Honiton. The loss led to a chain of events beginning with the resignation of Oliver Dowden from the government and ending with Mr Johnson’s resignation a fortnight later.

The poll suggests that Labour is on course to beat that record, given that Ms Dorries’ 24,664 majority is even higher than the Tories’ previous majority in Tiverton.

‘Losing big chunks’

Adam Drumming, an associate director of Opinium, said: “The Conservatives are holding onto just under half of their 2019 vote and losing big chunks to a mix of Labour, Lib Dems, Reform and the local independent while Labour gains some from the Tories and Lib Dems to just put them ahead.”

The poll shows that there is “all to play for” once Ms Dorries formally triggers the by-election, he added.

Ms Dorries’ majority in Mid Bedfordshire represents the largest of those the Conservatives are defending in by-elections over the coming months.

Mr Johnson held Uxbridge by 7,210 votes and Nigel Adams held Selby and Ainsty by 20,137 votes. By-elections for both seats will take place on July 20.

Mr Akinbusoye was seen as a good prospect for the Conservatives, having served as Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner since 2021. Labour’s candidate, Alistair Strathern, is a climate expert at the Bank of England.

Lost council majority

Earlier this year, the Conservatives lost their majority on Central Bedfordshire council, with the independent grouping now holding 28 seats compared to the Tories’ 20 councillors.

Mr Mackey, the independent candidate who picked up 19 per cent in the poll, has been a member of the council since 2019.

Mr Kyle added: “It is unprecedented, in my experience, to stand on a doorstep and have every resident tell you what’s wrong with the party you’re trying to beat rather than being the person who has to tell them and convince them.

“All you do is say ‘hello, I’m from the Labour Party and then the residents tell you about Nadine, they laugh about will there be a by-election and then they are usually quite passionate about having an absent MP and having a party that is taking them for granted.”

Mr Akinbusoye has told voters he is “not taking anything for granted”, adding: “People know what my track record is, what I’ve delivered here in Bedfordshire for them, for our young people, for our communities, and that’s what I’ll do again if I’m elected as an MP.

“I’m visible around here, I live locally, people know what I’m about and I think people will make their judgments come polling day.”