abour and the Liberal Democrats are vying to snap up Nadine Dorries’ Mid Bedfordshire seat in a by-election triggered by her exit 11 weeks after she vowed to go.
The Conservative former culture secretary has finally handed in her resignation, leaving Prime Minister Rishi Sunak facing another potentially damaging electoral test this autumn as his party languishes in the national polls.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said he is “increasingly confident we have a really good chance” of overturning Ms Dorries’ huge 25,000 majority in the constituency.
In seats like Mid Bedfordshire it’s the Liberal Democrats who are the only ones who can beat the Conservatives
He is hoping his party can pull off another shock victory after recently flipping a 19,000 blue majority in Somerton and Frome.
Sir Ed told BBC Breakfast on Sunday: “It’s clear that the people of Mid Bedfordshire feel the Conservative Party is out of trust and they see the Liberal Democrats as the main challenger.”
He noted that the Lib Dems have achieved massive swings to take similar rural so-called Blue Wall seats, where Conservative support has traditionally been strong.
Although the party came third in Mid Bedfordshire at the 2019 general election, with 8,000 votes, Sir Ed pointed to recent by-elections where it won seats from third place, such as in Tiverton and Honiton.
“It’s really clear – the evidence is overwhelming – that in seats like Mid Bedfordshire it’s the Liberal Democrats who are the only ones who can beat the Conservatives,” Sir Ed said.
But Labour, which came second in 2019 with 14,000 votes, believes it is best placed to gain the traditionally safe Tory seat.
The party’s Mid Bedfordshire campaign lead Peter Kyle told Sky News: “We are actually in a great position to win this seat in what would be an historic by-election victory.”
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary conceded it is a “bigger challenge” for Labour than its recent success in Selby and Ainsty, where it overturned a 20,000 Conservative majority, but added “it’s one that we are actually prepared for”.
Ms Dorries is expected to leave her parliamentary seat on Tuesday after notifying the Chancellor of her intention to do so on Saturday.
She had come under mounting pressure – including from fellow Tory MPs – to act on her June 9 pledge to step down with “immediate effect” in protest at not getting a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list.
Jeremy Hunt is expected to facilitate her exit from the House of Commons under the archaic process of being appointed to be Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern on the first working day after the bank holiday.
This will enable a motion called a “writ” to be moved when Parliament returns on September 4, giving between 21 and 27 working days for a vote to be held in Mid Bedfordshire.
The challenge for the Conservatives to defend the seat could be compounded by voters’ frustration over Ms Dorries’ absenteeism as she had not spoken in the Commons since June 2022 and last voted in April.
It may also not be helped by the divisive circumstances of her exit, which she delayed saying she was investigating why she was refused a seat in the Lords.
The former nurse also used her resignation letter to launch a scathing attack on the Prime Minister, accusing Mr Sunak of betraying Conservative principles and putting her personal safety at risk by whipping up “a public frenzy” against her.