Senior Tory Nadine Dorries has finally left her Mid-Bedfordshire seat – 12 weeks on from promising to quit over her failure to land a peerage.
Under intense pressure to leave, the former culture secretary finally handed in her resignation over the weekend – notifying the chancellor Jeremy Hunt as part of the archaic formal process.
Ms Dorries tweeted about her “new job” on Tuesday, as she leaves her job as MP and takes up a temporary role as Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern until a by-election is held.
But a motion called a “writ” won’t be moved until parliament returns on 4 September, giving between 21 and 27 working days for a by-election to be held in Mid-Bedfordshire in October.
Labour and the Lib Dems are already campaigning for the “blue wall” seat, with Rishi Sunak facing the another difficult electoral test in a nominally safe constituency.
Campaigners are urging opposition leaders Keir Starmer and Ed Davey to decide who has the best chance of beating the Tories and form a “non-aggression” pact – amid warnings they could evenly spilt the vote.
Compass director Neal Lawson told The Independent that “the ghost of last month’s by-election in Uxbridge should loom large over Mid Bedfordshire” – pointing to the Tories hanging on despite Boris Johnson’s unpopularity.
However, both parties are campaiging hard in the constituency. Mr Davey will visit Mid-Bedfordshire later on Tuesday, his fourth in the seat since Ms Dorries announced her departure and first since she formally stood down.
Labour is hopeful of overturning Ms Dorries’ 24,000 majority, having come second in 2019, ahead of the Lib Dems by 6,000 votes. But the Lib Dems also believe they can come from third, having done so in recent byelections.
Sir Ed will call for increased funding to expand capacity at local GP practices. “The people of Mid Bedfordshire have been taken for granted for too long,” he said. “People across Bedfordshire should be able to get an appointment with their doctor when they need it.”
He added: “The Liberal Democrats are the clear challengers in this by-election, every vote for our local champion Emma Holland-Lindsay will be a vote to send a message to the Conservatives that enough is enough.”
Labour frontbencher Anneliese Dodds said at the weekend that her party was in “pole position” for the seat, adding: “Labour won’t be cooking up any deals.” Labour’s candidate Alistair Strathern was also out campaigning over the bank holiday weekend.
Ms Sunak’s allies fired back at “bitter” Ms Dorries at the weekend after she accused the PM of putting her personal safety at risk by whipping up “a public frenzy” against her.
The Johnson loyalist launched a scathing attack on Mr Sunak as she finally formally resigned her seat, 11 weeks after promising to go – telling him: “History will not judge you kindly.”
But senior Tory Bob Neill – a loyal Sunak supporter – accused Ms Dorries of presiding over a “theatre of the absurd” with her recent refusal to go unless documents concerning her denied peerage were released.
Tory peer Gavin Barwell, the former No 10 chief of staff under Theresa May, also said her claim that Mr Sunak “whipped up a storm” against her was “absurd” – insisting that it had come from the constituency.
Ms Dorries refused to say if she would vote for the Conservatives at the next general election. She told TalkTV on Sunday: “You’re asking me a question I don’t want to answer.” The ex-minister also said that the Tories were “very, very unlikely” to win under Mr Sunak.