Lib Dems say they trail only narrowly in Tiverton and Honiton race

The Liberal Democrats plan to flood Tiverton and Honiton with activists after internal polling suggested the party was only marginally trailing the Conservatives before next week’s byelection in the Devon constituency.

Peter Walker 

A sample carried out by the party, based on tens of thousands of voter contacts, suggested that of people intending to vote on the day of the byelection, the Conservatives had 46% support and the Lib Dems 44%.

The party said it had a four-point deficit at the same point before December’s byelection in North Shropshire, which it won.

Victory for the Lib Dems in Tiverton and Honiton requires overturning a Conservative majority of 24,239, which the party says would be the biggest such margin ever overcome in a byelection, although other races have seen bigger swings in percentage terms.

If the polling figures are accurate they suggest that an unspoken accord between the Lib Dems and Labour to focus resources on one each of the two byelections taking place next Thursday could result in a double defeat for Boris Johnson.

Labour has concentrated efforts in Wakefield, where it appears to be well ahead. The Lib Dem figures suggest support for Labour in Tiverton and Honiton, where it has tried less hard, has shrunk to 6%.

Labour finished ahead of the Lib Dems in Tiverton and Honiton in 2019, and activists vigorously dispute the idea they are badly lagging there this time, saying recent council seat gains indicate they will again outperform the Lib Dems.

While the Lib Dems have triumphed in two previously strongly Tory seats in the last year, starting with a byelection win in Chesham and Amersham, party officials put their chances in the Devon seat at no better than 50-50.

The Conservatives have campaigned hard in Tiverton and Honiton, with Johnson among a series of senior figures to visit. Lib Dem canvassers report worries that some former Tory voters, while disaffected over issues such as Downing Street parties and complaints that the government has neglected the area, could simply stay at home rather than transfer their support.

The Lib Dems have issued a call for MPs, peers and activists to head to the constituency immediately to help with canvassing, with officials saying travel plans need to be made because of next week’s national rail strikes.

A party source said: “The momentum is definitely with the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton, but it is not by any means over the line. If we get an army of activists knocking on doors this weekend, we can do it. Whatever happens it’s going to be a very close-run thing.”

The byelection was prompted by the resignation of Neil Parish, the Tory MP since 2010, after he admitted watching pornography on his phone in the Commons.

The vote in Wakefield is taking place after Imran Ahmad Khan, who took the previously Labour seat for the Conservatives in 2019, resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.