A by-election triggered by the resignation of Nadine Dorries is set to deliver the Tories their worst ever defeat in such an election, according to a new poll.
A survey by Opinium found that Rishi Sunak’s party could lose the former cabinet minister’s Mid Bedfordshire constituency to Labour, despite having a 24,664 majority there.
The poll, commissioned by the opposition party, suggested that a Labour candidate would jump ahead of the Tories, with 28 per cent of the vote to 24 per cent, while independent candidate Gareth Mackey could come a close third on 19 per cent.
It comes as Westminster braces for a potential fourth by-election if sanctions against Tory MP Chris Pincher escalate to the level that could trigger a recall petition.
Mr Pincher is accused of drunkenly groping two men, and the controversy surrounding the handling of his case helped to bring down Boris Johnson’s government. He denies sexual misconduct allegations, though he said he had “embarrassed” himself.
For now, he remains an MP. The Commons standards committee is expected to release its report into his behaviour by the end of the month.
If he is suspended from the Commons for more than 10 days, constituents in his Tamworth seat could trigger a by-election if 10 per cent of them sign a recall petition. This provision is yet to be used in practice, and MPs who become vulnerable to a recall challenge have tended to resign of their own accord.
Tamworth has the potential to cause yet another political headache for Mr Sunak. The area has been a marginal seat in recent political memory, and was last held by Labour in 2005, though it has since swung hard to the Tories.
It would add to a long list of difficult defences for the Conservatives, who have been at rock bottom in the polls since Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget last year.
As well as the expected contest in Ms Dorries’ seat, the Tories are also defending Mr Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and West Ruislip in west London, and that of Tory MP Nigel Adams in Selby.
Ms Dorries is yet to formally resign as an MP, meaning that a date has not yet been set for the expected by-election in her seat. The contests in west London and Selby are both scheduled to take place on 20 July.
The former culture secretary’s Mid Bedfordshire seat has been held by the Tories since 1931, and a defeat there would represent a major shock to the system for Mr Sunak’s party.
The latest poll for the former culture secretary’s seat has the Liberal Democrats – who consider the seat winnable – coming in fourth, with 15 per cent of the vote.
This would represent a disappointing result for the Lib Dems, who have had a string of strong by-election results against the Tories in rural and suburban areas. Right-wing outfit Reform UK is on course to win 10 per cent of the vote, coming fifth.
Opinion polling of individual constituencies is notoriously difficult, however, and the positions of the parties could shift in an intensive ground campaign.
A Lib Dem spokesperson accused Labour of “playing fast and loose with their figures” and said that the poll findings “bear no resemblance to what we’re seeing across the thousands of actual doors we’ve knocked on”.
They added: “The choice at this election is clear, people can vote for change by supporting Lib Dem Emma Holland-Lindsay or get another Tory MP backing Rishi Sunak. Labour’s London councillor [Alistair Strathern, the Labour candidate] can’t win: a vote for him is a vote to strengthen this chaotic Conservative government.”
The result predicted by the poll would outstrip the Lib Dems’ overturning of a 24,239 Tory majority in Tiverton and Honiton, at the time the Conservative Party’s worst by-election defeat.
Peter Kyle, the Labour MP who is running the party’s campaign in Mid Bedfordshire, said: “The community here is fleeing the Tories, but they haven’t fully chosen their destination yet. There’s no complacency here for Labour, but it’s just a massive, unprecedented and historic opportunity.”
Adam Drumming, an associate director of Opinium, said: “The Conservatives are holding on to just under half of their 2019 vote, and losing big chunks to a mix of Labour, Lib Dems, Reform and the local independent, while Labour gains some from the Tories and Lib Dems to just put them ahead.”