Two key by-elections on the same day in October, both triggered by dramatic Conservative resignations, could spell trouble for Rishi Sunak.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are "making a full-tilt effort" to win the Mid Bedfordshire seat from the Conservatives on 19 October, said The Guardian, after Nadine Dorries triggered a by-election by resigning when she was "denied" a place on Boris Johnson's honours list.
It may have taken the former culture secretary "81 days to resign 'with immediate effect'", said The Daily Telegraph, but her departure from the constituency she'd represented since 2005 "fired the starting gun on one of the most unpredictable by-elections of recent years". A poll this week suggested that the Conservatives are actually "neck and neck" with Labour, although they remain considerably behind in national opinion polls.
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Also on 19 October, residents in Tamworth, north Staffordshire, will vote on a replacement for Chris Pincher, the "disgraced former Tory whip whose resignation triggered [Boris] Johnson's political downfall". In July, a House of Commons committee recommended that Pincher be suspended over alleged sexual misconduct, triggering another by-election. This is "double pressure" for the prime minister, said BBC News, but given its "controversial predecessor and her massive majority", it will be Mid Bedfordshire that politicians and pundits are "watching most closely".
Who is standing in Mid Bedfordshire?
Festus Akinbusoye, currently Bedfordshire's police and crime commissioner (PCC), is the candidate for the Conservatives. He has been asked to step down as PCC while he campaigns for the election.
For Labour, former teacher and current Bank of England worker Alistair Strathern is standing. He is currently a cabinet member on Waltham Forest council in east London.
Gareth Mackey, the chair of Central Bedfordshire Council (who once stood as a Conservative), will stand as an independent. His bloc of candidates took control of the council in May's local elections, unseating the Tories for the first time.
Emma Holland-Lindsay, a county native, is standing for the Lib Dems, having recently won a seat on the Central Bedfordshire Council. She is head of public affairs for the National Federation of Women's Institutes.
Cade Sibley, who works in adult social care, is standing for the Green Party.
Dave Holland, who grew up in the constituency, is standing for Reform UK (previously the Brexit Party).
Alan Victor, a retired car company executive, is the True & Fair Party candidate.
What are their chances?
Mid Bedfordshire has been a safe Conservative seat for nearly 100 years. It is "a typical Home Counties constituency", said BBC News: "rural, with a high percentage of homeowners (76%)".
Nevertheless, the Tories could be on track for the biggest by-election defeat in history, according to a constituency poll by Opinium in July. The survey put Labour at 28%, compared with a 24% chance for the Tories, suggesting a massive collapse in support for the Conservatives. It put independent candidate Mackey on 19%, ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 15%.
But this week, a Survation poll commissioned by the Labour Together group suggested that "a split 'progressive' vote" between Labour and the Lib Dems could allow the Tories to hold on to the constituency. "Our polling clearly shows this is a two-horse race," said Josh Simons, director of Labour Together.
While independent candidates are "not often given much attention in by-elections", noted the BBC, the fact that they are in charge at Central Bedfordshire Council could be a sign that "voters are looking for something different from the main parties".
Who is standing in Tamworth?
Tamworth has been seen as a safe Tory seat in the past – but mid-term by-elections are notoriously difficult for incumbent governments.
Andrew Cooper, a member of Tamworth Borough Council, will run as the Conservative Party candidate. He has a senior role at Network Rail, and has previously served in the British Army.
For Labour, union organiser and former NHS governor Sarah Edwards will stand. Sunny Kirk, a barrister, will represent the Liberal Democrats.
Former university lecturer Dr Sue Howarth will stand for the Green Party, while Richard Kingstone, working in a Tamworth secondary school, will stand as an independent. Ian Cooper is the candidate for the Reform UK party.
What does it all mean for Rishi Sunak?
Previous Conservative voters in a focus group in Mid Bedfordshire were "unconvinced" by Sunak, said Dominic Penna for The Telegraph, finding the wealth of the near-billionaire prime minister harder to stomach in a cost-of-living crisis.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats "want to show that they can make in-roads into Tory territory", said BBC News – a win, or even "a narrow loss", would be a sign that "the main opposition parties are picking up new support".
What about for Keir Starmer?
The Survation poll "will add to fears" in Starmer's team that the Conservatives could still retain the seat, said ITV News, "if voters split between the Lib Dems and Labour."
"Fatigue with the government was matched by broader apathy" in Mid Bedfordshire, said Penna, "and the sense a Labour administration would offer more of the same".
Among the focus group, there was a general belief that none of the main parties could offer solutions to the UK's problems. Dorries has left her constituency a place where "trust in politics has plummeted".
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