Nadine Dorries has finally sent in her resignation and the Mid Bedfordshire by-election will finally be called. Three months or so ago the Lib Dems opened as the odds-on favourites to take the seat but how have the betting markets changed throughout the summer? Let’s take a look…
Mid Bedfordshire By-Election Odds:
*odds correct as of 11:00, Monday 4 September, 2023
Top of the pile are still Sir Ed Davey’s party but they are not odds-on anymore. That is the headline takeaway from the market movement we’ve seen so far and there is plenty to play for in what might be the most interesting three-way battle we’ve seen in a by-election in the modern era.
Now many reading this will wonder why I’ve put three-way and not four-way because plenty of political pundits are salivating and talking up the chances of the independent Gareth Mackey. The current leader of Central Bedfordshire Council has cultivated quite the following among the politicos, who are eager to look highly intelligent and ahead of the curve.
A constituency poll released back in early July suggested that Mackey was actually ahead of the betting favourites (Lib Dems) having got 19% compared to the Lib Dems 15%. Labour lead of 28% with the Tories on 24% with Reform UK at 10%. There is an awful lot to unpick here.
First of all we’ll concentrate on the independent candidate. The last time any independent stood in a by-election who wasn’t already the sitting MP and they received the levels of support this poll suggests Mackey could expect was just after the second world war. In 2021, Samantha Lee got 10% of the vote in the Hartlepool by-election running as an independent, finishing a distant third but that was a very good result result historically speaking.
The long and short of it is if Gareth Mackey was to be even competitive, it would be one of the most historic by-election results in history and victory would be the most historic, hands down. The likelihood of it happening when all three major parties are actively campaigning and the independent isn’t aggressively standing on one hot-button topic? I’d say pretty darn long and I’m happy not to join in with the throng of my political writing brethren by saying he’s not going to be in the mix for the win.
I have no doubt he’ll do nicely for an independent candidate but the most important aspect of his campaign will be where he takes the votes from. As a former Conservative, does he take the protest votes from natural Tories who are unhappy with the national party and the behaviour of Nadine Dorries? These are the voters the Lib Dems desperately need to attract and the stronger he does with this section of the electorate, the better it is for Labour and to a lesser degree, the Tories.
Now to unpick some of the other numbers from that constituency poll. Considering the current climate, the particular unhappiness locally into the actions (or should I say inactions) of their former MP, does anyone really believe that between them, Labour and the Lib Dems are polling under 50% in the constituency? That is a fallacy. I don’t for one iota believe that come polling day, the candidates from those two parties will between them gather less than half the vote. If they are under two-thirds then that would even be a big surprise.
The Tories at 24%? Ok, that part rings true and as for the Reform UK being at 10%. They didn’t clear 4% in either the Selby & Ainsty nor Tiverton & Honiton by-elections earlier in the year (they didn’t stand in Uxbridge & South Ruislip). So I’m happy to say that number is inflated and they won’t get near that.
If Labour and the Lib Dems had an agreement in place for which of the two parties were best placed to win then they would waltz it. The fact they are both going to actively campaign makes it an extremely competitive race. Even in what were big defeats following extremely large swings in Selby & Ainsty and Tiverton & Honiton back in the summer, the Conservative candidates still got 34% and 39% in both of those ballots. So we can probably pencil in the Tories for something in the low-to-mid 30s at minimum here in Mid Beds.
This is why the independent candidate has so much influence here and why the Tories will be pumping up his chances and hoping that he does well enough to take votes away from Labour and the Lib Dems. If the Tories do have a base of low-to-mid 30s then if Gareth Mackey can get to 10% then it really squeezes the chances of either of the main UK based opposition parties of winning this by-election.
It would be fair to say that Gareth Mackey is the Tories best friend when it comes to the Mid Bedfordshire by-election. Unless the anti-Tory vote has a clear sign as to which way to go, the split really can lead the Conservatives to pull off the shock win in a constituency that two months ago many were writing off.
This is a proper three-way contest where the momentum and smart money is currently very much with the Conservatives. Six weeks however is a long time in a by-election campaign and there is very much all still to play for.