Party was runner-up in 2019
Labour’s by-election candidate in Tiverton and Honiton is reminding voters that it was the nearest challenger to the Tories at the last election.
A replacement for Neil Parish, who resigned after he admitted watching pornography in the House of Commons, will be decided next Thursday [23 June], with the Conservatives defending a 24,000-plus majority.
But despite finishing third with fewer than 9,000 votes in the last general election in 2019 – behind Labour – the Liberal Democrats have established themselves as the main challengers in the contest.
The party has pumped activists into the area as it eyes up a shock similar to last year’s by-election in North Shropshire, when it overcame a 23,000 majority to defeat the Tories. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has made a number of visits to the constituency to support candidate Richard Foord.
In contrast, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer nor any of his frontbench have reportedly visited Tiverton and Honiton since the campaign started. They appear to be focusing efforts on next week’s other by-election in Wakefield – a ‘red-wall’ seat it lost to the Conservatives in 2019.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems deny claims of a pact in order not to split the anti-Tory vote. Labour’s Liz Pole this week rejected that it was “soft-pedalling” in Devon.
Instead, she is keen to remind voters of the last election result, in which the party picked up just under 20 per cent of the votes. “Labour is in second place here,” she claims. “We’re very aware of that and we’re trying to remind voters of it, in spite of what they might read in the press.”
Ms Pole, who runs a software business with her husband, added: “I think the Labour vote is staying with us. A lot of people who might have drifted to the Conservatives over the last few years are coming back to Labour because they are horrified by the lack of integrity in the government and also just the mismanagement of the economy.”
Her campaign is concentrating on the cost of living, combating anti-social behaviour, addressing climate change and bringing down waiting times for GP appointments.
The candidate describes herself as the “real deal,” explaining how the public wants authentic politics and authentic politicians.
“So, somebody like me, who’s been turning up at planning meetings, standing up for GP places and school places, affordable housing, and the environment – trying to keep sewerage overspill out of the rivers, getting involved in community groups…”
Ms Pole also suggests she’s happy to continue campaigning in the vast constituency, which stretches from Bampton on the edge of Exmoor to Seaton on the Jurassic Coast, without the hype attracted by big party visits.
“In a way, I’m quite glad to be standing outside that sort of frenzied circus and just feeling like the person who should be the MP.”
Eight candidates are vying for the Tiverton and Honiton seat:
- Jordan Donoghue-Morgan – Heritage Party
- Andy Foan – Reform UK
- Richard Foord – Liberal Democrats
- Helen Hurford – Conservative
- Liz Pole – Labour
- Frankie Rufolo – The For Britain Movement
- Ben Walker – UK Independence Party
- Gill Westcott – Green Party