Michael Gove has come out to downplay the Tories’ chances in the upcoming by-election nightmare facing Rishi Sunak.
On Friday and Saturday, Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams all quit as MPs with immediate effect, triggering three separate by-elections across England.
Given the state of the polls and typical by-election upsets faced by unpopular Governments, it’s anticipated the Tories could lose all three votes.
This morning, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove warned the by-elections won’t be easy.
“It’s always difficult for the incumbent Government, the guys who happen to be in the box seat at the time when you have a by-election, but we’ve got good conservative candidates.”
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Mr Gove said the Conservatives will be hoping voters award the Government for focusing on “the really important priorities” of the economy, the NHS and dealing with illegal migration.
Boris Johnson’s Greater London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip has the smallest majority of the three, of just 7,210.
Once a safe Conservative seat, Brexit and house prices pushing young liberal professionals out into the suburbs means it’s an almost guaranteed Labour win.
Both Nigel Adams’s North Yorkshire seat and Nadine Dorries’s Bedfordshire seat have majorities of over 20,000, however, they could turn Labour and LibDem respectively.
Asked whether Mr Adams and Mrs Dorries had been selfish in quitting their seats out of loyalty to Boris Johnson, Michael Gove said: “I don’t know what the motivations were”.
“I worked with Nadine, I worked with Nigel. I respect them. Anyone who devotes as both of them did yours to public service deserves our gratitude.”
Elections guru Sir John Curtice has said Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge seat is a “lost cause” for Rishi Sunak.
However offered a glimmer of hope, saying the Conservatives might just be able to cling on to Mid Bedfordshire and Selby and Ainsty.
“Mid Bedfordshire is perhaps the easiest to save. If the Tories are lucky, they’ll lose Boris’s old seat and hang on to the other two, albeit perhaps only narrowly.”
Luke Tryl, director of the More In Common think tank, has suggested Sir Keir Starmer needs to win Selby if he’s to prove Labour is on course for a 1997-sized majority.
“If Labour are on course for big swings, 1997-style swings, they’ll win Selby. If they’re not quite winning it, that suggests they might not be on course for such a dramatic swing.”
“And if they aren’t winning Uxbridge, it suggests they’re definitely not on course for ousting the Tories from Government.”
Both the LibDems and Labour are planning on fighting hard to win Mrs Dorries’s Mid Bedfordshire constituency, a clash which could allow the Tories to sneak through the middle.
While Mrs Dorries won a 24,664 majority in 2019, the LibDems have managed to overturn majorities of that size before.
Neil Parish sat on a majority of 24,239 before quitting over watching porn in the Commons. The LibDems took his seat with a 29.9-point swing in the 2022 by-election.