Voting opens in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth byelections | Byelections

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Voting has opened in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth in byelections seen as crucial in gauging the electoral fate of Rishi Sunak, but difficult to predict.

The Conservatives are defending majorities of nearly 25,000 in Mid Bedfordshire and close to 20,000 in Tamworth, which would normally point to an easy hold. However, their chances will be hampered by the party’s dismal poll ratings and the records of departing MPs.

The Mid Bedfordshire vote was triggered by the resignation of the former culture secretary Nadine Dorries in protest at her lack of a peerage from Boris Johnson’s resignation honours. Her protracted departure drew attention to her seemingly limited involvement in local affairs.

In Tamworth, Chris Pincher, the former deputy chief whip, stepped down from his seat after losing an appeal against an eight-week suspension from parliament for groping two men at a private members’ club in the summer of 2022.

Tamworth is a straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour. The latter held the Staffordshire seat between 1997 and 2010, when Pincher was first elected.

Sarah Edwards, the Labour candidate in Tamworth, is the bookmakers’ favourite to defeat the Conservatives’ Andrew Cooper, but this would need a swing of more than 21 percentage points.

Cooper has not helped his case after it emerged that in 2020 he shared a Facebook photo of a flowchart which said parents should only seek help with their finances if they were employed and gave up their TV and mobile phone contracts.

A Labour win would not be without precedent: a byelection in 1996 in South East Staffordshire, the previous seat in the area, saw Labour defeat the Conservatives with a swing of nearly 22 percentage points.

Mid Bedfordshire is even harder to call, given that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have flung huge resources at the byelection.

Labour came a fairly distant second to Dorries in the 2019 general election, and argue this makes them the obvious challengers. The Lib Dems in turn say the seat’s largely rural demographics and the need to tempt wavering Tory voters to change sides mean they are better placed.

The refusal of either side to back down makes it possible that even a fairly demoralised local Conservative group could win with their candidate, Festus Akinbusoye, the local police and crime commissioner.

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However, if the Conservatives lose, it would be – depending whose version you follow – either the biggest majority overturned in a byelection since 1945, or the biggest ever.

The combined uncertainty means that unpacking the wider political lessons of the results could be complex.

But losing byelections would be seen as disastrous for Sunak, and another pointer towards defeat in the general election next year.

While holding one or both seats would be trumpeted by No 10 as indicating a resurgence for the prime minister, this may not be the case, given the previously huge majorities, and the fact that Labour and the Lib Dems could cancel each other out in Mid Bedfordshire.

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