Wakefield and Tiverton: who will win the by-elections this week?

Labour and Lib Dems hoping to pick up seats vacated by Imran Ahmad Khan and Neil Parish

Wakefield town centre
Wakefield will go to the polls to elect a new MP
(Image credit: Steve Speller/Alamy Stock Photo)

Two forthcoming by-elections promise to be the next tests of the government’s popularity following the confidence vote in Boris Johnson.

The polls in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and in Tiverton and Honiton in Devon were triggered when Tory MPs resigned amid shocking headlines. They also come hot on the heels of the local elections and amid controversy over the Partygate scandal and the cost-of-living crisis. Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer is also facing a police investigation over claims that he broke lockdown rules. Both votes will take place on Thursday 23 June.

The triggers

The Wakefield by-election was prompted by Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan’s resignation after his conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. He said he was standing down to mount an appeal against his conviction and would “focus entirely on clearing my name”. He has since been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

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Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish quit soon after, admitting that he had watched pornography in Parliament. Parish, who has represented the constituency since 2010, said it had been a “moment of madness”.

The candidates

NHS worker Simon Lightwood will be Labour’s candidate for the Wakefield by-election. The BBC said the seat is regarded as a “key target for Labour” who had held it for more than 80 years before the Conservatives won it in 2019.

The selection of Lightwood did not come without controversy. The executive committee of the Wakefield Labour Party walked out of the final selection meeting, said The Telegraph, claiming that Lightwood was “parachuted in” by Starmer’s office. Ed Balls had also been linked with the seat but later said he had “no intention” of standing.

Lord David Frost, the former Brexit minister, had been rumoured by The Spectator to be a contender for the Conservative candidacy. However, Nadeem Ahmed, a Conservative councillor for Wakefield South and leader of the Wakefield Conservative group from 2014 to 2021, was eventually chosen.

The Liberal Democrats selected Jamie Needle as their candidate. It will be his second bid to land the seat after he also stood in 2019.

The other candidates are:

  • Sir Archibald Stanton Earl 'Eaton (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party)
  • Akef Akbar (independent)
  • Paul Bickerdike (Christian Peoples Alliance)
  • Mick Dodgson (Freedom Alliance - Integrity, Society, Economy)
  • Jayda Fransen (independent)
  • Jordan Gaskell (UKIP)
  • David Herdson (Yorkshire Party)
  • Thérèse Hirst (English Democrats)
  • Christopher Jones (Northern Independence Party)
  • Ash Routh (Green Party)
  • Ashlea Simon (Britain First)
  • Chris Walsh (Reform UK)

In Tiverton, Parish initially thought about running as an independent candidate, telling the Chopper’s Politics podcast: “It is an option for me and one I could consider.”

He has since given his “full backing to the Tory candidate Helen Hurford”, reported DevonLive. “She’s a retired headteacher, and businesswoman from Honiton, and I believe she will make a good parliamentarian and a good constituency MP,” he told the local news site.

Local businesswoman Liz Pole will represent Labour, while former Army major turned university worker Richard Foord is standing for the Liberal Democrats.

The other candidates are:

  • Jordan Donoghue-Morgan (Heritage Party)
  • Andy Foan (Reform UK)
  • Frankie Rufolo (The For Britain Movement)
  • Ben Walker (UKIP)
  • Gill Westcott (Green Party)

Previous results

Wakefield returned Labour MPs from 1932 until 2019, when it lost the seat to the Tories. During Labour’s long run holding the constituency, the second-placed party was always the Conservatives.

Since its creation in 1997, Tiverton and Honiton has always returned a Conservative MP. The area served by the constituency has not been represented by a party other than the Conservatives since 1923.

Significance and predictions

The two by-elections, taking place at either end of the country, “provide a dry run for the next British general election”, said The Economist.

In Wakefield, the Conservatives must show they “can hang onto the traditionally Labour-voting areas which they won in 2019”, while in Tiverton and Honiton they must “stave off a resurgent Liberal Democrat party” that has begun to “take chunks” out of their rural base.

A poll from Survation on behalf of campaigning platform 38 Degrees at the start of the month put Labour 20 points ahead of the Conservatives in Wakefield. However, internal polling seen by The Sunday Times last weekend put the lead at a “less than convincing” eight points.

While the Tories won Wakefield with just a 3,358 majority in 2019, they secured Tiverton with 24,239 votes more than Labour. Internal polling from the Lib Dems, who came in third place, suggests the party is now “neck and neck with the Conservatives” in the Devon seat, said the i news site.

Most of the bookmakers agree that the Lib Dems will win, while Labour will take Wakefield.

Voters in the two by-election constituencies are in a “privileged position” as they have the “opportunity to speak for the country”, said The Observer on Sunday. “A double whammy of byelection defeats will frighten Conservative MPs in red wall seats and those traditionally true blue.”

Yes, by-elections offer voters “a chance to protest against the government”, said Will Dunn at The New Statesman. But he warned that by “making this by-election all about Johnson and his leadership” the opposition parties also risk playing into the prime minister’s hands.

“A Tory victory in the present circumstances could be spun as a kind of personal vindication,” said Dunn. And, more fundamentally, “when every vote is an act of applause or revenge, good policy and competent government become irrelevant, and populism always wins”.

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