The polls for the triple by-election opened early this morning. Voters are electing new MPs to replace disgraced former PM Boris Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Nigel Adams in Selby and Ainsty, and David Warburton in Somerton and Frome. The Labour Party is confident of winning Johnson’s seat but anticipates a tight battle in Selby and Ainsty. Despite a 20,000-vote Tory majority in 2019, both parties believe that as few as 1,000 votes could be the difference between the winner and loser. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are quietly confident of victory in Somerton and Frome. The polls will close at 10 pm tonight, with the final results likely known early on Friday.
Rishi Sunak is today facing his toughest test as PM as voters elect replacements for MPs who have either quit or been forced out. The Conservatives may well lose all three, which would be a significant setback for the PM. The Liberal Democrats and Labour hope to dent the Tory majority and build momentum around a future general election victory. Given that the Conservatives have brought the triple by-election on themselves, the PM was downbeat on Wednesday, saying he anticipated a “tough battle” in all three.
Boris Johnson quit to avoid suspension from Parliament, David Warburton over a drug and sexual harassment investigation, and Adams stood down after losing out on a peerage. Recent poor poll showings add to the PM’s woes. If Labour wins two and the Lib Dems clinch the third seat, Sunak will be the first Prime Minister to suffer defeat in three by-elections held on one day in nearly 60 years.
Labour is keen to secure the seat in Selby and Ainsty to demonstrate it appeals to rural communities. But a significant swing, much greater than in a poll, would be necessary for Labour to take the seat. After winning in Tiverton and Honiton last year, the Liberal Democrats hope to repeat that performance in Somerton and Frome, a traditional Tory stronghold.
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, told reporters:
“Today, voters across Somerton and Frome have a chance to send a clear message to the Conservatives that they have failed our country on the NHS, the cost of living crisis and protecting our rural communities.
“If the Liberal Democrats succeed in overturning this massive 19,000 Conservative majority, it will show voters in Somerset are fed up with being taken for granted by Rishi Sunak and his failing Government.”
All eyes will be on Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat. While up to a few days ago, a Labour victory appeared inevitable, London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the London ultra-low emissions zone may since have flipped voters back to the Conservatives. As the Conservatives held the seat since 1970, victory here would be ever so sweet for the opposition.
Tory sources revealed last night that the party is anticipating defeat in all three by-elections.
According to iNews, Rishi Sunak told MPs that sitting governments seldom win by-elections, urging them to “throw everything” at securing another great majority at the next general election. Jonathan Gullis, a Tory backbencher, told journalists that the party’s poor showing would be down to “apathetic Conservative voters” rather than a show of support for Labour.
Triple by-election rolls out first-time voter ID requirement
Anyone over 18 can cast a ballot provided they are on the electoral register. For the first time, however, voters must bring a form of photo identification such as a passport, driver’s licence or an elderly person’s bus pass. In the absence of such a document, they can bring a Voter Authority Certificate (VAC).
In the run-up to the by-elections, voters will have received polling cards containing voter ID information.