Sunak faces another crunch by-election as Labour and Lib Dems eye Nadine Dorries' seat

Rival parties have been hitting the doorsteps in Mid-Bedforshire following the resignation of Tory MP Nadine Dorries, as Tom Sheldrick reports

The Tory former culture secretary is expected to leave her parliamentary seat on Tuesday - 11 weeks after she first said she would quit her Mid-Bedfordshire seat.

Ms Dorries had announced in June that she would quit the Commons with “immediate effect” in protest at not getting a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list, but delayed her exit while she investigated why she was refused a seat in the Lords.

In a blistering resignation letter Ms Dorries accused Mr Sunak of betraying Conservative principles and putting her personal safety at risk by whipping up “a public frenzy” against her. Her exit on Saturday triggers a challenging by-election for the prime minister in her Mid Bedfordshire constituency this autumn.

Jeremy Hunt is expected to facilitate her exit from the House of Commons under the archaic process of being appointed to be Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern on the first working day after the bank holiday.

This will enable the writ to be moved when Parliament returns on September 4 for a by-election in Ms Dorries’ Mid Bedfordshire constituency.

The electoral test threatens to cause misery for the prime minister as the Conservatives battle to hang on to the seat amid a slump in national opinion polls.

The by-election in Mid Bedfordshire triggered by Nadine Dorries’ resignation threatens to cause misery for Rishi Sunak Credit: Henry Nicholls/PA

The Tories will be fearing a repeat of massive defeats in two by-elections before the summer recess, when Labour overturned a 20,000 Conservative majority in Selby and Ainsty and the Liberal Democrats flipped a 19,000 blue majority in Somerton and Frome.

Mr Sunak’s party did manage to hang on to Mr Johnson’s old Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, but with a much-reduced majority.

The Conservatives’ challenge in Mid Bedfordshire could be compounded by voters’ frustration over Ms Dorries’ absenteeism as she has not spoken in the Commons since June 2022 and last voted in April.

Mr Sunak said earlier this month that her constituents were not “being properly represented” as she remained in post despite promising to quit, although Ms Dorries insisted it was “nonsense” they have been ignored.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Ms Dorries won 60% of the vote at the 2019 general election to secure a 24,000 majority in Mid Bedfordshire, which the Conservative Party has held since 1931.

“The clearly orchestrated and almost daily personal attacks demonstrates the pitifully low level your government has descended to,” she said in the statement, published in The Mail on Sunday – for whose sister title the Daily Mail she writes a column.

The arch loyalist of former premier Mr Johnson also said the “country is run by a zombie Parliament” since Mr Sunak took office last year.

“You have no mandate from the people and the Government is adrift. You have squandered the goodwill of the nation, for what?”

Downing Street declined to comment.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said he is “increasingly confident we have a really good chance” of overturning Ms Dorries’ huge 25,000 majority in the constituency.

He is hoping his party can pull off another shock victory after recently flipping a 19,000 blue majority in Somerton and Frome.

Sir Ed told BBC Breakfast on Sunday: “It’s clear that the people of Mid Bedfordshire feel the Conservative Party is out of trust and they see the Liberal Democrats as the main challenger.”

But Labour, which came second in 2019 with 14,000 votes, believes it is best placed to gain the traditionally safe Tory seat.

The party’s Mid Bedfordshire campaign lead Peter Kyle told Sky News: “We are actually in a great position to win this seat in what would be an historic by-election victory.”

Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds conceded “it will take an absolutely enormous change in that constituency for Labour to win”.

“We’re talking about a really big Conservative majority,” she told Times Radio. “However, Labour did win in Selby and Ainsty.”

Mr Kyle, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, also said Mid Bedfordshire represents a “bigger challenge” for Labour than its recent success in north Yorkshire’s Selby and Ainsty, where it overturned a 20,000 Conservative majority, but added “it’s one that we are actually prepared for”.

Following Ms Dorries resignation, a government minister said people were not “interested” in hearing the staunch Johnson loyalist’s “personal attack” on Mr Sunak, saying “we need to move forward” having “raked over the coals of the Boris Johnson premiership a number of times”.

Responding to her criticism of the prime minister’s record, veterans minister Johnny Mercer told Times Radio: “It’s far better to be seen to fail while striving greatly.”

Residents living in Mid Bedfordshire have said their former MP “should have gone long ago”.

One told ITV News: "It's long overdue. She's been absent from her constituency for a considerable amount of time and it's time that we all had some representation."

Another said: "If she had the interest of the people at heart, she would've gone weeks ago".

Meanwhile Government minister Johnny Mercer said it is time that people move on from the controversy.

"Nadine's made her views very clear. She said she was going to resign. She now has resigned. I think we can get on with the by-election", he said.

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