Vacancy arises after Neil Parish's resignation
The leader of the Liberal Democrats has urged rural voters to get behind his party as the main challenger in an upcoming westcountry by-election.
Neil Parish, who lives in Bridgwater, resigned on Saturday (30 April) as the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, a constituency he has represented since 2010.
A by-election to replace Mr Parish – who resigned after admitting to viewing pornography in the House of Commons – will be held after this week’s local elections, with the Lib Dems hoping to replicate recent by-election successes elsewhere in England.
Ahead of this, Sir Ed Davey has stated his party will be the main challenger for the seat, and has encouraged rural voters to back his candidate should they wish to unseat the Conservatives.
The Tiverton and Honiton constituency is to be abolished ahead of the next general election if boundary changes go ahead, and a new seat created that spans the Devon-Somerset border.
The current seat is predominantly rural, with Mr Parish commanding a majority of 24,239 at the last general election in 2019 – with the Lib Dems finishing behind Labour in third place.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Tuesday, Mr Davey dismissed any notion that the anti-Conservative or ‘progressive’ vote would be split this time around.
He said: “Across the country we’re finding people coming to the Liberal Democrats far more than the other parties.
“In the Chesham and Amersham by-election in true blue Buckinghamshire, people said the Labour Party would do well, the Greens would do well – they didn’t, we won.
“In North Shropshire, they had a very vibrant Labour Party and Green Party in places like Oswestry, but we actually won the seat and the anti-Tory vote came behind us.”
These two by-elections saw the Lib Dems overturn significant Conservative majorities of 16,223 and 22,949 respectively.
Mr Davey – who represents the Kingston and Surbiton seat in Greater London – said winning Mr Parish’s seat was “a big ask” but added he was confident that rural voters would swing behind his candidate.
He said: “It’s really clear we will be the challengers to the Conservatives in Tiverton and Honiton.
“We have a legacy of success across the south west, much stronger than any other non-Tory party.
“We showed in North Shropshire that people in rural communities look to us rather than Labour or anyone else.
“It is a big ask – it is a bigger majority to win than even in North Shropshire, so we want to be realistic. But we are the challengers, and if people want to get rid of the Conservatives in that by-election, they’ll be voting Liberal Democrat for sure.”
While the Lib Dems have not yet announced their candidate for the by-election, their campaign has already received backing from Claire Wright, who stood as an independent candidate in the neighbouring East Devon seat in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 general elections – finishing second on each occasion.
She tweeted on Sunday: “Thank you so much to everyone who has urged me to run in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.
“It is clear, though, that the Lib Dems have the best chance of winning the seat and I have no wish to split the left-of-centre vote.
“We desperately need proportional representation, but until then I believe non-Conservatives need to work together in progressive alliances and galvanise around the left of centre candidate most likely to win.
"Best of luck to the Lib Dems in this election!”
The date for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election has not yet been set – though it is possible that it will be held on the same day as a separate by-election in Wakefield, to replace Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan following his conviction on a charge of sexual assault.