Polls close in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections as Rishi Sunak faces anxious wait to see if he’ll suffer further demoralising Tory losses
Voting ended tonight in two crunch by-elections to leave Rishi Sunak with an anxious wait to see if he’ll suffer further demoralising losses.
Polls closed at 10pm in contests in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire after local voters were asked to elect new MPs.
The constituencies were both won by the Tories at the 2019 general election but Labour are hoping to seize the seats and deliver a double blow to the Prime Minister.
The results of both by-elections are likely to be known in the early hours of Friday morning, with Mr Sunak set to be told the news while on his Middle East trip.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party require a huge swing away from the Conservatives in each constituency, but know a positive result will sow fresh panic among Tory ranks.
Since becoming PM, Mr Sunak has already suffered crushing defeats in by-elections in Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome.
Both of those were previously Tory strongholds before being won by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, respectively, in July.
Polls closed at 10pm in contests in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire (where a dog was pictured waiting while its owner cast their ballot in Flitwick) after voters were asked to elect new MPs
The by-election results will be known in the early hours, with Rishi Sunak set to be told the news while continuing a Middle East trip after talks with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman
The Tamworth constituency was vacated by former Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher after he was found to have drunkenly groped two men in a London club.
The Mid Bedfordshire by-election was prompted by the resignation of Tory ex-Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries from the House of Commons after a peerage row.
As polls closed tonight in both contests, a Conservative spokesman was downcast about the party’s chances of clinging on to the constituencies.
‘These were always going to be challenging by-elections and the rule of thumb is that governments don’t win them,’ they said.
‘We have seen little to no enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer who voters can see stands for nothing and always puts short term political gain first.
‘It is clear that we have to maintain our focus on people’s immediate priorities whilst taking long-term decisions which will lead to the change this country needs.’
Labour MP Pat McFadden, his party’s national campaign coordinator, also attempted to manage expectations of success.
‘We have known all along that winning these seats would be a long shot, with huge majorities to overturn,’ he said.
‘The fact that we are even on the pitch is a sign of how far the Labour Party has changed.
‘We are making real progress in all corners of our country and showing that with Labour, we can get Britain’s future back.’
Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine played down her party’s chances of victory in Mid Bedfordshire but suggested they had won over disgruntled Tory supporters.
‘Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the Lib Dem vote has surged in true blue villages across Bedfordshire, as former lifelong Conservative voters choose to send this government a message,’ she said.
There are Tory hopes that the Lib Dem challenge in Mid Bedfordshire will bleed votes away from Labour and allow the Conservatives to hold the constituency
Labour’s campaign in Tamworth was boosted on Thursday by a last-minute endorsement for their candidate Sarah Edwards from TV’s Ross Kemp
Labour are currently around 20 points ahead of the Tories in national opinion polls, as Sir Keir seeks to put himself on course for Downing Street at the general election.
But the Opposition have sought to downplay their chances of winning the by-election contests and insisted it is a ‘moonshot’ to achieve victory in either or both seats.
A spokesman for Sir Keir this week described them as ‘super safe’ constituencies for the Tories ahead of the by-election contests.
‘These are in super safe Tory seats that would require for us to overturn results larger than those which we overturned in Selby,’ the spokesman said.
‘If we were to win Tamworth and had that swing at a general election, it would mean that the Tories will be down to fewer than 60 seats at the next general election.
‘So a little bit of perspective is required here. Tamworth is a seat where the Tories got 66% of the vote at the last election. Mid Bedfordshire is a similarly safe Tory constituency.’
The best chance for the Lib Dems of springing an upset is likely to be in Mid Bedfordshire, where they began campaigning even before Ms Dorries officially quit.
There are Tory hopes that the Lib Dem challenge in Mid Bedfordshire – where they came second in the 2005 and 2010 general elections – will bleed votes away from Labour and allow the Conservatives to hold the constituency.
But a Tory source told MailOnline that Labour had sidelined the Lib Dems as the campaign had gone on, and Sir Ed Davey’s party was now targeting blue areas.
The by-election contests have been bad-tempered in both seats, with attacks on the Tory candidate in Tamworth for suggesting in an old social media post that families using food banks should ‘f*** off’ if they could afford TVs and phones.
Mr Sunak this week declined to condemn an apparent suggestion by Andrew Cooper that out-of-work parents who cannot afford to feed their children should ‘f*** off’.
The Tory leader was asked during Prime Minister’s Questions about a photo of a flowchart shared by Mr Cooper on Facebook.
The diagram suggested that those who are out of work, pay for ‘TV Sky/BT/etc’, or ‘have a phone contract + £30’ should ‘f*** off’ rather than seek help.
In reply to the question, the PM said only that he was ‘proud of our record supporting people with the cost of living’, before outlining Government policies aimed at supporting people through the crisis.
Mr Cooper told Channel 5 News he was ‘sorry if I’ve offended somebody’ after the post was publicised.
Asked if regretted sharing the image, he said: ‘Obviously it is not something I would share now in today’s world.
‘We obviously mature and have different opinions than we do three years ago.’
He added: ‘Of course I’m sorry if I’ve offended somebody. But it is very hard in today’s world to have an opinion and not to offend somebody.’
Labour’s campaign in Tamworth was boosted on Thursday by a last-minute endorsement from TV’s Ross Kemp.
‘It’s gonna be close,’ the former EastEnders actor told voters in a social media video.
‘But you have the opportunity to vote for a difference in your constituency today. So please vote for Sarah Edwards.’
In Mid Bedfordshire, Labour last month threatened legal action against the Lib Dems as the two parties clashed over claims made on campaign leaflets.
Labour’s candidate in Mid Bedfordshire, Alistair Strathern, previously made headlines after he was unmasked as an eco-activist who posed as a zombie during a Greenpeace protest outside the Home Office in November last year.
The PM’s press secretary this week told reporters that ‘mid-term by-elections are extremely tough for incumbent governments’ but said the Tories were ‘fighting for every vote’ in the by-elections.
The Tories have held Mid Bedfordshire since 1931 and Ms Dorries held on to it in 2019 by 24,664 votes over second-placed Labour.
The Conservatives are defending a 19,600 majority in Tamworth.
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