Coded message from Ben Bradshaw?

A former Labour minister has appeared to suggest that voters in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election should consider going Liberal Democrat in a bid to oust the Conservatives.

Tiverton and Honiton by-election: Ex-Labour minister appears to suggest voters go Lib Dem

Colin Drury 

Ben Bradshaw – who was culture secretary between 2009 and 2010 – said his party should fight for every vote in the seat.

But, in what some will regard as a coded message, he added: “What some Labour members and activists don’t always appreciate is that a lot of Conservative voters, if they want to give the government a kicking will vote Liberal Democrat but they wouldn’t vote Labour…

“So if we have a joint purpose of wanting to send the prime minister a message and ultimately defeat this government in a general election then I think there are very good prospects of a Lib Dem victory there.”

The race for Tiverton and Honiton – a sprawling, largely rural Devon constituency – prompted by the resignation of Neil Parish who admitted watching porn in the House of Commons, is being widely touted as a two-horse race.

The Tories currently enjoy a 24,239 majority and have held the seat since it was created in 1997 but the Lib Dems believe they could steal it on the back of anger about Partygate and rising living costs.

Suggestions have been made that Labour will fight only a bare minimum campaign here to allow yellow candidate Richard Foord a clear run, with the Lib Dems returning the favour in Wakefield where another by-election is being held the same day.

Both parties have denied such a pact.

But Mr Bradshaw’s comments – initially made on Radio 4’s The Week In Westminster – will be seen as a tacit endorsement of voting tactically.

On Friday, he went further when he compared Tiverton and Honiton to North Shropshire – where the Lib Dems won a by-election in December.

The MP for neighbouring Exeter told The Independent: “The figures are very much like the figures in North Shropshire, and, as there, people are furious with the Tories not just because of parties and the cost of living crisis, but because of the way the government’s treated rural areas and farming and fishing industry in particular.

“Johnson’s Brexit deal is an absolute disaster for our farmers so, you know, I would hope for the people of Tiverton and Honiton will send a clear message to the government.”

Asked if he was recommending tactical voting, he said: “If you look at by-elections in North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham, and Batley and Spen, the voters didn’t need to be told how to vote.”

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, said: “There is no doubt the Lib Dems are the only party that can beat the Conservatives here… This by-election is a unique opportunity to send Boris Johnson a message and that’s why supporters of all parties are backing us.”