By-elections too close to call in first test for Sunak's relaunch

Tories hope voters have 'forgotten' ex-Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire MPs' 'scandals', says party chairman

Rishi Sunak walks out of No. 10 Dowing Street
Rishi Sunak has been warned by Tory MPs that 'it will be a disaster' if he loses both by-elections
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak faces his latest test today as voters head to the polls in two by-elections, in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire. 

Both seats have "massive Tory majorities" that Labour "hope to crumble", said Politico's London Playbook newsletter. "Will these be a new Selby or Somerton shock… or a mere Uxbridge?"  

MPs "from across the spectrum" have warned "it will be a disaster for the Prime Minister if he loses both seats", GB News said, after Sunak attempted to "relaunch" the party at its conference last month, said The Times. "Even the loss of one seat" would see the Conservatives having a majority of at least 19,000 overturned, said GB News.

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At the 2019 general election, the Conservatives won Mid Bedfordshire with almost 60% of the vote. And two-thirds of voters kept the Tories in control of the "bellwether" Tamworth seat too, said Playbook. 

Three years later, party chairman Greg Hands told The Times that neither vote was being held against "the greatest backdrop" for the Tories. The party is hoping that voters will "have forgotten the scandals of Chris Pincher and Nadine Dorries".

Pincher, Tamworth's MP for 13 years, resigned last month after being suspended for groping two men at a London club in June last year. Dorries left her Mid Bedfordshire seat in August after not being awarded a peerage. 

Insiders believe the government has "more chance" of retaining Dorries' former seat, said The Times, which is in a "acrimonious three-way split" between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, said Politico. 

A Tory insider told GB News that many have accepted that Tamworth – which Labour would need a 21% swing to win – "is already gone". 

Win or lose "it's the swing that matters", Professor John Curtice told Politico. While a 19% swing would see the Tories "just hang on" to Tamworth, "that would not indicate any particular rescue" for Sunak's party.

"Expectation management" is "on steroids" in both the Labour and Tory camps, said Politico. A spokesperson for Keir Starmer said both constituencies are "super-safe Tory seats". And Hands told The Times: "Governments don't win by-elections." 

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