The second of the trio of by-elections this week comes from the west country where the Liberal Democrats are aiming to knock-off their fourth Conservative seat of this parliament…
Wins in areas that have not really contemplated voting Lib Dem in recent months have included Chesham & Amersham, North Shropshire and Tiverton & Honiton. Somerton & Frome is not like those three constituencies in that from 1997 to 2015, this seat was represented by the traditional third party in UK politics.
All this on paper should add up to a relatively comfortable victory for Sir Ed Davey’s party. They secured the most votes in recent council elections across the boundaries of this seat and indeed have looked to regain their strength across the county of Somerset as a whole. This used to be a very strong area for the party but the coalition changed all that and only now are the green shoots of recovery really starting to show.
The traders and punters certainly seem to agree that this should be a relatively comfortable win for the Lib Dems as they are trading as short as 1/33 to take this seat. Those odds are exceedingly short considering that even when they did win the seat four times between 1997 and 2010, their largest majority was 1,817 and the other three times they were victorious it was by less than 1,000 votes each time.
Yet we are in different times. The Conservative party is reeling and voters are becoming ever-increasingly either Pro-Tory or Anti-Tory and when they are in the latter, they seem more comfortable voting for the candidate best placed to beat who they don’t want to win.
This has been seen this up and down the country and that is arguably why the Lib Dems are so short, the expectation is a huge wave of natural Labour voters will hold their nose and vote LD.
In The Observer on Sunday, it was claimed that the Lib Dems are still behind in their internal polling but close enough to try and cajole those Labour and Green supporters to switch their vote. This is a tactic we’ve seen in all three of their recent by-election wins and seems to be an effective strategy to get over the line.
This by-election was called due to the resignation of David Warburton, who had overseen the biggest swing of any Tory victory in that surprise outright victory in the 2015 General Election. Allegations of sexual harassment and admissions of using cocaine were the tip of the iceburg that also included being found to have breached the MPs Code of Conduct with regards to getting a loan from a Russian businessman.
Frome Town Council passed a vote of no confidence in him after the MP announced that despite all the controversy surrounding him, he was intending to seek re-election at the next General Election. When that happens, you know things aren’t going well.
Like all two other constituencies going to the polls on Thursday, this is seen very much as a two-horse race. The Tories have selected Yeovil councillor Faye Burbrick to contest the seat with Somerset councillor Sarah Dyke selected as the Lib Dem candidate.
As previously mentioned, the odds as of Monday lunchtime are 1/33 for the Lib Dems with the Tories out at 12/1. The value is clearly with the Corservatives to manage to hold on to their huge 19,213 majority but Sir Ed Davey’s party are so short for a reason. I like the Liberal Democrats to win by four to five thousand.
*All prices correct at the time of writing
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