The Tories deserve to lose Tiverton

I have covered many by-elections and Hurford is the worst candidate I have found. Initially she says she wants to share “all my ideas and my aspirations for the Tiverton and Honiton”. The definite article is singular to her; she considers everything from her own perspective; her speech is filled with exclamation marks; its content is banality meets rage. “I know what it’s like to raise a family and be brought up in this area,” she says. “It’s beautiful! I’ve had lots of ministers coming down to support me and they’re saying, ‘isn’t it gorgeous?’ and I say, “Yeah it is, why would you want to live anywhere else?’”

Tanya Gold

“We love tractors,” says an old man by Tiverton market, sunning himself on a bench. He gives a filthy laugh and I hear pride in it: he sounds like Sid James. Tractors are why I am here, at least tangentially. In April, the Tory MP Neil Parish Googled a Dominator Tractor in the House of Commons and found himself watching BDSM porn in view of colleagues. He resigned to become a crucible for a by-election and a metaphor for decline. Ennui is the presiding atmosphere in Tiverton and Honiton: boredom. It’s another referendum on the Prime Minister’s leadership. They are getting repetitive.

“There’s nothing happening here,” the man says, when he stops laughing. “They’re just letting this town run down to the ground. They aren’t doing anything. You walk down through there” — and he points at a road — “they were going to take a building down, make more room for the market. They’ve scrapped that now. Why? Nobody knows.”

This is dairy country with undulating, sun-wilted hills from Exmoor to Lyme Bay. The towns are golden and ancient: less sleepy than necrotic. Londoners buy second homes and treat the landscape, which looks like an advert for butter, as a garden while common issues — low pay, lack of housing, infrastructure, local services — have been ignored. Still, it was safe for Tories: farmers are conservative. Parish’s majority in 2019 was 24,239 votes: 60.2% of the vote. Labour came second in 2019 and 2017 but the Liberal Democrats, the professional opposition, hope to repeat their successes in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire with their candidate Richard Foord, a former major in the army.

Three hundred activists a day come from out of the constituency to help: angry Tories don’t vote Labour. If it goes Liberal Democrat, it means Johnson is still in danger. If it doesn’t — and even Liberal Democrats are unsure — it means Partygate is forgotten, and he has hope: to continue his personal redemption through destruction.

“I would like,” the man continues, “to think the Liberal Democrats will get it. Make a completely new start. Because the Conservatives — what have they done?” But this is a by-election: just one less brick in the wall. It will change nothing. Does he know that? He answers his own question, enunciating carefully: “Very, very little. Did he [Neil Parish] make a mistake? Would you walk into the Houses of Parliament and produce a phone and start looking at porn?”

“Is he the only one who’s doing it?” asks his friend, and they guffaw for a while. In east Devon you must be patient. They think in decades. To them, Parish is a fool, not a fiend. There is not the same anger towards him as there was towards Owen Paterson in North Shropshire. Those who liked him still like him. (One man says he loves him.) Those who hate him hated him anyway.

At the edge of Honiton, where it segues from golden town to sprawl, I find the Community Arts Theatre. Public hustings are almost unknown nowadays because they are unpredictable but, since it is organised by the Fund Our Tivvy High campaign — the school needs to be rebuilt — the main candidates agreed to it.

I arrive early and watch the For Britain candidate, a ruddy, pinched boy called Frankie Rufolo, who carries aggrievement like a cartoon cloud over his head, attempt to infiltrate the hustings. He was not invited. “You’re a racist,” a youngish man tells him. “I’m an anti-racist,” Rufolo pleads back. (For Britain is endorsed by Tommy Robinson.) A security guard approaches to remove Rufolo. I ask Rufolo if he is local. “I have relatives in Devon,” he says sulkily. “No, you don’t,” says the security guard, and leads him away, head hanging like a daffodil.

I listen to the Labour candidate Liz Pole, a genial woman essentially trying to climb a mountain in slippers, giving a TV interview: “The Conservative vote has collapsed, even people who are voting Conservative are doing so through gritted teeth, a lot of people are staying home or are switching…” Her press officer, who is presumably decorative, won’t brief me on or off the record but I think it is less tactics — an informal non-aggression pact with the Liberal Democrats is a persistent rumour — than laziness. Later, when I call out to her, she places a finger in the air and walks to the carpark with it.

As the audience muster, a group called LIFT (Local Independents for Tiverton) unfurl a banner that says: The Party’s Over, Prime Minister. Post confidence vote, it is an ancient slogan. It could be by Cicero. “The Conservatives have taken us for granted,” says a LIFT supporter. “The only time we were on the news is when our MP was caught looking at pornography in the House of Commons.” He talks about local food poverty, which is “remarkable” (donations have flat-lined and the church that stores them is empty), the dangerous condition of the school and lack of representation, homes for locals and well-paid jobs. There used to be a clutch of thriving factories around Tiverton, he says. Now they are shuttered or small.

He is by far the angriest man I meet in Devon. This is not raging North Shropshire, where former Conservatives would denounce Johnson on street-corners, or Chesham and Amersham, where the atmosphere was a kind of gleeful transgression in sunlight. It feels sadder than that: splintered, tetchy, defeated, as if Johnson’s corruption is settling over everything like dust, leaving people bewildered and exhausted. Many people tell me they won’t vote, and never have: “I’d rather sit in my garden and have a cold beer.” “They’re all the same”. One Labour woman voted Liberal Democrat tactically in 2010, and never will again; an old betrayal haunts her and so she will help Johnson by voting Labour. A youngish man is one of the few Tory splitters I find: “I was a paid-up member of the Conservative Party and there’s no way I can vote for the Tories in the state they are in. They’ve lurched to the Right.”

Some people are gently awed that politics has fallen on them. A man in a checked blue shirt with exquisite RP accent, who is here to find out if the Conservative candidate is pro field sports, says: “I’m not going to tell you who I normally vote for, but I am much to my own surprise” — and he does look very surprised — “a floating voter.” If he is anything other than a Conservative now leaning Liberal Democrat, he needs a better disguise.

Inside, it is packed with political obsessives who know how they will vote: anti-Tory. The Tory candidate Helen Hurford, a former teacher who now owns a beauty salon — Corbynistas smirk at this because they are snobs — sits with Gill Westcott, the Green Party candidate, who is the sort of woman who sags under her obvious intellect. Liz Pole sits with Richard Foord. He looks open-faced but exhausted, as if a burden is upon him. That’s the disease of by-elections: the idea that they matter for anyone beyond the lobby’s Kremlinologists. They are only runes.

I have covered many by-elections and Hurford is the worst candidate I have found. Initially she says she wants to share “all my ideas and my aspirations for the Tiverton and Honiton”. The definite article is singular to her; she considers everything from her own perspective; her speech is filled with exclamation marks; its content is banality meets rage. “I know what it’s like to raise a family and be brought up in this area,” she says. “It’s beautiful! I’ve had lots of ministers coming down to support me and they’re saying, ‘isn’t it gorgeous?’ and I say, “Yeah it is, why would you want to live anywhere else?’”

A woman in a straw hat rises to ask: “In light of the resignation of two ethics advisers in less than two years, what is your personal view on the moral character of Boris Johnson?” “It’s hard to know where to start, just the lies, the repeated lies,” says Liz Pole, looking phlegmatic because the alternative is screaming: “The brass neck of the man.”

“The first part of that question, I believe, was about the resignation of the ethics advisers,” says Hurford. “It’s very Westmistery. That’s the expression I use. I’m not in Westminster but my understanding is that it was a commercially sensitive issue.” There are heckles at this, but she moves through them like a tank: “That’s what I’ve been told, thank you very much!” The chair presses her: do you have any concerns about his character? “I have no concerns that his pledges are honest”. Foord says: “To lose one ethics advisor could be regarded as misfortune, but to lose two ethics advisers can only be carelessness.”

Hurford is pressed on the cost of living (“I’m feeling it too!”) the environment (“I don’t have the answer!”) and the policy of sending refugees to Rwanda: when the refugees get there — “and it will happen” — they should “be treated kindly and fairly!” She summons Zelenskyy in her support and, at the end, when she is asked who her favourite thinker is, she names her grandfather. (Westcott names Gandhi, Pole Dickens and Foord W. B. Yeats and Paddy Ashdown). “You know, I hated school,” Hurford says conversationally, and it sounds like the truest thing she has said. “Slightly ironic that I became a head teacher.”

I think of May Welland from The Age of Innocence: Hurford has that hard, unyielding brightness. It shines. It lets nothing in. She is a typically Johnsonian Tory; evasive, anti-intellectual and self-obsessed; quick to anger when threatened, slow to change her mind, if she ever does. Every time she speaks, I feel materially closer to autocracy. At the end she says: “This is a fantastic opportunity for a girl that was born and raised and absolutely adores this constituency Tiverton and Honiton”. I wonder if she will burst into song. “Everything that I do will be for the benefit of Tiverton and Honiton because I am Tiverton and Honiton.”

Later I meet Richard Foord. He is not as interesting as Hurford, not being a mad kind of nadir, but he has spoken to hundreds of former Conservatives and, like Pole, he believes the Conservative vote is ebbing. “There are a lot of long-term traditional Conservatives who don’t regard Boris Johnson as a Conservative,” he says. “The most cited reason is that they regard him as lacking in integrity and honesty and for some people these traits are part of their own identity as Conservatives. Some Conservatives do put that above everything else.” There are Johnson loyalists, he adds, “who will stick with him, but I think they are outnumbered by the number of Conservatives who feel they should be better led.”

The next day I find the Liberal Democrat office on Honiton High Street. It is swagged with Union Flags. There are no chairs inside to discourage sitting down, which is not a sign of confidence. An elderly man returns from canvassing in Axminister. He moans that people aren’t budging from the Conservatives — “We are Conservatives,” he reports them saying to him — takes another bundle of leaflets, and leaves disconsolate.

The Honiton Conservative Association, a few doors down, is shuttered. There is a rumour, which I cannot confirm because it is shuttered, that the officers of the Honiton Conservative Association are voting Liberal Democrat. There is a Liberal Democrat sign on the Honiton Conservative Association, but I cannot say who put it there. I think it is a joke.

This by-election is the most depressing I have covered. It feels sunken and shameful, which is not surprising when you consider its origins: a by-election not for constituents, who feel ignored no matter their stripe, but for other people. The media is here, mugging locals and holding up queues in the butchers. They gawp at the nerve of it: as if we are more interested in a prime minister’s fate than a constituency’s. They wonder why they were not always so interesting to us; why we never came here before; if we are irreparably trivial.

I meet aghast and defensive Tories, thwarted Leftists, the undecideds who will choose whether Hurford gets to parliament or not and the eternal, maddening non-voters. But I can’t find the purity of the anger I heard in North Shropshire like a bell. “It’s quite amazing,” a Left-leaning bookseller tells me, his fingers stroking their spines, “how much people will tolerate before they rouse themselves.” I can’t escape the sense that the Tiverton and Honiton is just another distraction: another tiny chapter in the incremental narrative of Boris Johnson’s will to power. I wonder if he is more afraid of boredom or hatred. And we are back to him, again.

Government retracts ‘unlawful’ pollution guidance for England’s farms

Guidance that would have allowed farmers to spread manures and slurry on land in a way that would overload it with nutrients and risk pollution of rivers, lakes and coastal waters has been changed by Defra, after a challenge over its lawfulness.

Rachel Salvidge 

Manures, which include sewage sludge, abattoir waste and slurries, are a leading source of water pollution. Their application is strictly controlled under what are known as the Farming Rules for Water. But Defra’s guidance had directed the Environment Agency not to enforce a breach of the rules if a farmer produced its own manures or used imported manures that could lead to nutrient overload.

Campaign group Salmon and Trout Conservation wrote to environment secretary George Eustice in April threatening judicial review unless the guidance was withdrawn, saying it was “unlawful, as it tells the Environment Agency that land managers can, in effect, breach the 2018 regulations … and that any such breach should not normally be subject to any enforcement”.

Defra rejected the claim in May, saying that “the proposed challenge is without merit”. But earlier this month the department changed the guidance to remove the loophole.

Guy Linley-Adams, solicitor to Salmon and Trout Conservation, said that if the guidance had remained unamended, the organisation would have “pressed forward with an application for judicial review, because in our view, and in the view of counsel instructed by Salmon and Trout Conservation, the guidance, as originally published, encouraged unlawful acts.

“Farmers and land managers would have read the guidance and believed it to be permission, in effect, to spread too much manure on their land risking serious agricultural pollution of watercourses,” he said.

Defra said the guidance had been amended by Eustice to “clarify guidance to the Environment Agency on assessment of soil and crop need when planning nutrient applications” and that it had done so “in response to questions raised by stakeholders”.

The Farming Rules for Water were introduced in 2018 at a time when the European Commission was threatening to take the UK to the European court over its failure to deal with diffuse agricultural pollution and protect rivers under the Water Framework Directive.

But to date, the Environment Agency has not prosecuted any farmers or landowners for breaking the rules.

Speaking last month in front of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, Environment Agency chair Sir James Bevan said the rules were deliberately not enforced for the first couple of years “because the government asked us not to”. He said Defra “asked us to work with farmers through advice and guidance while farmers got used to it”. Bevan said the agency had been “more robust” over the last two years.

Salmon and Trout Conservation’s chief executive, Nick Measham, said the government is not doing enough to deal with agricultural pollution of rivers.

“The pollution on the Wye and many other rivers is often the direct result of farmers spreading chicken manure and cattle slurry carelessly or where it is not needed as a fertiliser. It is a huge problem. Agriculture is a bigger cause of our rivers failing to meet good ecological status than the water industry’s dumping of sewage.”

A series of regulations designed to protect the environment from water pollution are likely to be scrapped in their current form as part of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plans to axe all remaining EU laws by June 2026, and Defra has said it is planning to reform farm rules towards a more advice-led approach.

“We fear the situation is about to get much worse,” said Measham. “The review of the Farming Rules for Water, the Nitrate Regulations and Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil Storage Regulations, that environment minister Rebecca Pow has confirmed is under way, may lead to wholesale watering down of agri-environment regulations, exposing English rivers to greater threat of pollution.”

Tiverton tells Boris Johnson the ‘party’s over’

There was a clear message to Boris Johnson outside a public meeting to hear from candidates at the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. A group turned up with a giant banner spelling out ‘The Party’s Over Prime Minister’, referring to questions over his leadership following revelations about Downing Street parties during the pandemic.

Edward Oldfield 

The stunt outside Tiverton Community Arts Theatre was the idea of account manager Rob Corden. He borrowed the banner from a friend in Newquay, who had put it on a barn. Mr Corden, 42, said: “We are all a bit worried about our political culture. We are all a bit fed up. What did it for me, was Nadine Dorries telling backbenchers to be mindful of Tory donors who had threatened to withdraw funding. I don’t think they represent the people, only the interests of the small elite.”

The message was held by supporters of the community group Local Independents for Tiverton. One woman said: “We’re the electorate, and we’ve had enough of his lies, his corruption and his amorality, and it’s time he went.”

The four candidates at the election meeting, including Conservative Helen Hurford, were already inside the building when the banner arrived. But the issue of Downing Street parties, and the prime minister’s character, cropped up during questions from the public in the 90-minute session at the 300-seat theatre, which is part of Tiverton High School, on a warm Thursday evening.

It was the only public meeting in the run-up to the vote for the Tiverton and Honiton seat on Thursday, to replace Conservative Neil Parish who resigned after watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons chamber. It was chaired by George Parker, a former pupil at the school, who was flanked by the Conservative Helen Hurford and the Green Party’s Gill Westcott on one side, with Labour’s Liz Pole and Liberal Democrat Richard Foord on the other.

One questioner asked the candidates for their “personal view of the moral character of Boris Johnson” following the resignation of his second ethics adviser, which triggered an uproar of shouting, cheers and whistles from the lively audience. Ms Pole said the “lies” and “brazenness” left her almost speechless. “People are just so upset about it, it is such a stain on British politics.” She added: “Boris Johnson has got to go.”

Ms Westcott was concerned that the prime minister “might be seen as one bad apple” but pointed out the Conservative Party voted him in as leader “knowing that he was a liar” and had confirmed him in place when he won a confidence vote. She accused the party of voting to increase poverty by ending the £20 Universal Credit uplift. “They are OK with hungry children, OK with changing the ministerial code,” she added, to shouts and cheers from the audience.

Ms Hurford described ‘Partygate’ as “very Westminsterly”, and said her understanding of the resignation of the second ethics adviser Lord Geidt was due to a commercially sensitive issue. She added: “With regard to our prime minister, I believe the pledges he makes.” She had to speak over a barrage of heckling as she pointed to government achievements. She listed the Covid vaccination programme, £37billion of financial aid to tackle the cost of living crisis, and support for Ukraine against Russia, which had brought praise from the Ukrainian president. Ms Hurford concluded her assessment of Mr Johnson with: “I have no concerns that his pledges are honest.”

Mr Foord for the Liberal Democrats pointed out Mr Johnson was the first prime minister in history to have broken the law. He said: “148 MPs who see him up close and personal voted that they had no confidence in him as the leader of the party. If they have no confidence in him as the leader of the party, why on earth should we have confidence in him as the prime minister of our country?” Mr Foord said the election was a chance for voters to “get the prime minister out.”

A £40million rebuild for Tiverton High School was top of the agenda at the meeting, which was organised by the campaign group Fund Our Tivvy High. The meeting heard that a site has been identified and given outline planning permission, but it was waiting for a decision on funding from the government. A Labour plan to rebuild the school was scrapped by Michael Gove, the education secretary in 2010 when the coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came to power. All the candidates agreed that the scheme needed to go ahead, but Mr Foord questioned why it had not happened in the 12 years since 2010 when Tiverton had a Tory MP, arguing the town had been bypassed because it was a safe Conservative seat, while Ilfracombe in the marginal North Devon constituency had been given a new school.

The issue focussed attention on the central campaign messages of the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Ms Hurford, a former primary school head teacher, said education funding was a top priority, and argued she was the only candidate who could work with the government to get things done for Tiverton and Honiton. Mr Foord said the Conservatives had taken the area for granted, and the election was a chance to send a message that people wanted change.

On the cost of living crisis, Ms Westcott said the Greens were calling for a £40 increase in Universal Credit, but it needed a long-term solution. Ms Pole said Labour had led on the issue, arguing for a cut in VAT on fuel and a windfall tax on oil firms which the government had eventually done. Mr Foord said a weekly shop had risen by £25 in the last year, while wages had effectively fallen by £65 as energy prices increased. The Liberal Democrats proposed a 2.5 per cent cut in VAT, which would put £600 “back in people’s pockets immediately”. Ms Hurford described it as an unprecedented global crisis which the government had responded to with a £37billion package of financial aid, giving £1,200 to the most vulnerable, and £400 off fuel bills for everyone.

A questioner raised the issue of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. She described it as “disgraceful”, adding: “I personally feel ashamed at the moment.” Ms Pole described it as “unthinkable”, and Mr Foord said the £500,000 flight was a “gimmick”. Ms Hurford condemned the people smugglers sending people across the Channel from France, and suggested the Rwanda policy would deter people from using illegal routes of entry to the UK.

Outside the theatre, it was unclear how many people had been influenced by what they heard in the debates. One 19-year-old, who will be voting for the first time on Thursday, said he was disappointed by the amount of heckling by people hostile to the Conservatives. He said he was sympathetic to Boris Johnson, who has been getting “a pretty rough time”. One Conservative supporter said it had been a “rough crowd” for their candidate who had handled it well, although other bystanders described her performance as disappointing.

Political commentators are suggesting that the Liberal Democrats are poised to overturn the Conservative majority of more than 24,000 from the 2019 General Election. The Liberal Democrats are cautious about the prospects of making it their third byelection victory in recent months, with a report of their internal polling earlier this week putting them just behind the Tories, but they feel victory is within reach.

Nadine Dorries Says She Does Not Fancy Boris Johnson, Despite The Memes

Owl wonders whether Ms Hurford might call on help from Nadine Dorries in the fight for Tiverton?

Kate Nicholson 

Nadine Dorries said she does not fancy the prime minister in an interview on Sunday.

The culture secretary, a long-term ally of Boris Johnson, was responding to questions about why she has supported the prime minister for so long.

LBC presenter Rachel Johnson, who is the prime minister’s sister, said: “I’ve got to ask – perhaps I’m the only person who can ask – but you do look at my brother in a particular way, I’m sure the listeners have seen the memes – the adoring memes.”

Dorries groaned, and claimed: “I’ve had that so many times!

“I look at Keir Starmer in the same way and no-one ever does memes of that, do they?”

The presenter said: “What do you see in him?”

“First of all, I don’t fancy your brother – not a bit,” she added.

“He’ll be gutted,” Johnson replied, to which Dorries said: “I think he knows.”

The culture secretary said she has been pushing for Johnson to become the prime minister since 2012, as she has “always seen the potential in him”.

“It was absolutely obvious, he was always going to be the person who got the Conservatives the kind of majority they deserved and also have the radical agenda we needed to get things done that needed to be done.”

Dorries has been a loyal and particularly vocal defender of the prime minister.

She suggested that Johnson will never be ousted from No.10 through a vote of confidence earlier this year, even as letters of no confidence in Johnson were being handed in by Tory MPs.

Dorries also claimed the general public do not “give a fig” about the resignation of Johnson’s ethics adviser, which shook Westminster last week.

Lord Geidt quit after alleging the prime minister was making a “mockery” of the ministerial code through the partygate saga.

She said: “You call him Lord Geidt. I think the rest of the country had never even heard of him before and called him Lord Geddit.

“I don’t think they give a fig who replaces him or who he was or what he did. It’s a bit of a bizarre one isn’t it? Someone who wasn’t elected who has resigned.

“Everybody thought for 24 hours that he was going to resign over something that was going to compromise the prime minister, was suddenly blindsided by the fact that it was something to do with steel tariffs.”

There has been some confusion over why Geidt resigned, with some claiming that it was over steel tariffs.

However, The Telegraph reported over the weekend that Geidt said this reason was a “distraction” from the root causes of his decision to leave his post.

New Lib Dem poll suggests potential disaster for Boris Johnson in Tiverton and Honiton

The Liberal Democrats say internal polling has put the party neck and neck with the Conservatives with just two full days of campaigning left before Thursday’s crucial by-election in Tiverton and Honiton.

Ms Hurford is expected to bring more cabinet ministers in to help. But there are no “stars” in the cabinet to call on. They are all lap dogs to “Big Dog”. – Owl

By David Parsley 

After speaking with 6,000 constituents in the Devon seat over the weekend, pollsters for the Lib Dems put their candidate Richard Foord on 45 per cent of the vote, level with the Tories’ Helen Hurford.

This latest survey of voting intentions suggests the Lib Dems have closed the two-point gap between themselves and the Conservatives that existed at the same point last week.

The poll also puts the Lib Dems ahead of where they were at the same point in the North Shropshire by-election, where they overturned a 23,000 majority to take the seat with a near-6,000 majority of their own.

However, with the Conservatives fighting harder in Tiverton and Honiton than they did in what they considered a safe majority in North Shropshire, Lid Dem insiders remain nervous that their efforts will not be enough to snatch this by-election.

Mr Food said: “This by-election is a very close fight between myself and Boris Johnson’s candidate.”

If accurate, it means the Lib Dems are close to overtuning the 24,239 majority won at the December 2019 general election by former Tory MP Neil Parish – who was forced to resign after he was seen viewing pornography in the House of Commons.

If the Lib Dems do reverse the huge Tory majority, it would be the largest by-election turnaround since Labour won Liverpool Wavertree from the Conservatives in 1935.

In 2019, Mr Parish won 60 per cent of the vote, with Labour second on 19 per cent and the Lib Dems back in third on 15 per cent.

With two by-election victories against the Tories in Chesham and Amersham last June and North Shropshire in December behind them, the Lib Dems are hoping the momentum will continue.

A spokesman for the Lib Dems said: “With just four days to go it’s neck and neck. We’re now level pegging with the Conservatives and it all comes down to these final days.

“Voters are fed up of being taken for granted by the Conservatives and are rallying behind the Liberal Democrats. We are the only party that can beat Boris Johnson’s candidate. We’re fighting hard for every vote and to bring real change to Devon.”

Ms Hurford is trying to persuade many life-long Tory voters, inclined to stay at home rather than vote for a Prime Minister they have lost faith in after his law-breaking in Downing Street during the Covid-19 lockdowns, to back her.

The Conservatives are also losing votes from farmers in this rural constituency following post-Brexit trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, which many claim will undermine them with cheap and lower quality products coming from these countries.

Farmers are also concerned about the loss of funding from Westminster via the Direct Payments system, which is being phased out and replaced by a Environmental Land Management Scheme in 2027.

The Lib Dems are attempting to bring more Labour, Green and undecided Tory voters over to them in order to claim a victory that will heap further pressure on Mr Johnson as he continues to battle to remain the leader of his party and the nation.

Both sides are also calling on activists to make their way to Devon to help in their respective campaigns, as well as sending down big hitters from Westminster.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, who was in the constituency all weekend, is expected to be knocking on more doors around the constituency in the final two days of the campaign, Mr Foord will also be joined by former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, the party’s Treasury spokeswoman Christine Jardine, education spokeswoman Munira Wilson, and chief whip Wendy Chamberlain.

Tory candidate Helen Hurford was campaigning with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as well as Tory peer and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes on Saturday, and is expected to bring another batch of Government ministers to the constituency this week.

However, Boris Johnson will steer clear of voters as his the previous safe Tory seat considered to be under threat because of his law-breaking activities in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns.

While Labour’s Ms Pole declined to comment on the Lib Dem poll, she did say she was still fighting for every vote.

She said: “I don’t take any votes for granted, which is why I’m out everyday, across the entire constituency speaking with local people.

“Local people are telling me they’re tired of this Conservative government, the contempt Boris Johnson has shown them and their inability to tackle the cost of living crisis. People are keen for change here in Tiverton and Honiton.”

If the Conservatives lose in Tiverton and Honiton, and in the other by-election on Thursday in the “Red Wall” seat of Wakefield, it is thought backbench Tories may attempt to change party rules to allow another confidence vote in Mr Johnson. Earlier this month, 148 Conservative MPs voted to oust the Prime Minster – four in 10 of his MPs.

While bookmakers continue to make the Lib Dems strong favourites to take the seat, odds for a Conservative victory have shortened in recent days.

The Conservative campaigns was contacted for comment.

Greens say Tiverton & Honiton has “huge problems”

Gill Westcott calls for more spending

The Green Party candidate for this week’s Tiverton and Honiton by-election says the area has “huge problems.”

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter 

Gill Westcott is standing for election (image courtesy: Green Party)

Gill Westcott is one of eight people standing to replace former Conservative MP Neil Parish, with voters going to the polls on Thursday [23 June].

Ahead of the by-election, she has outlined some of the issues facing the constituency – which stretches from Bampton on the edge of Exmoor to Seaton on the Jurassic Coast – saying it is “vital” they are discussed.

“There are huge pockets of deprivation. Finding affordable housing is incredibly difficult. Rural transport is often few and far between. It’s not affordable. It’s not reliable.

“We need a lot more spending on education. There are 7,000 schools across the country that need urgent repairs and Tiverton High School needs a new school. That’s been promised [but] hasn’t materialised.

“Health services are creaking at the scenes. It’s no good recruiting more GPs and nurses if the ones that we have are leaving because they’re so stressed and they’re not supported.”

Mrs Westcott has lived in Devon for 30 years and has been involved in many community projects including helping to set up a trust to provide affordable homes in her Mid Devon village.

She backs increasing universal credit by £40 per week, insulating more homes to reduce energy use and bills, a higher minimum wage, and keeping pensions in line with inflation.

Discussing Devon’s housing crisis, Mrs Westcott says she is “hearing anguish about the lack of rented accommodation in general” and wants more action on behalf of renters.

On the environment, the Green Party’s main focus, she added how much more could be done by the government, criticising how it “seems to be quite happy to move in the opposite direction and encourage drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea, which is a more expensive fuel….whereas if we invested in cheaper, renewable energy, we could have a much quicker return in terms of energy and it would be available locally.”

The by-election is taking place after the shock circumstances of Mr Parish’s resignation at the end of April, after he admitted watching pornography in the House of Commons.

Despite calling his actions “reprehensible” and outlining how she “differ[s] hugely from him in political terms,” Mrs Westcott said: “He was a good constituency MP and he spoke up for farmers.”

On his departure, she added: “He did look ashamed. When he spoke about it, he admitted the truth and he resigned, which is more than you can say for some of his colleagues.”

“Tiverton and Honiton needs an MP who has integrity, who tells the truth, who observes the rules, and who is committed to them, including the younger generation.”

In the 2019 general election, the Green Party candidate, Colin Reed, came fourth out of five candidates in Tiverton and Honiton, and lost its deposit with just 2,291 votes. That was a slight improvement on 2017, in which Ms Westcott stood for the Greens and also lost her deposit.

Candidates pay £500 to take part in an election and forfeit it to the Treasury if they don’t receive at least five per cent of the votes.

No 10 confirms it asked the Times to drop Carrie Johnson story 

The Times swiftly withdrew a story that made allegations about the prime minister and his wife after Downing Street intervened to complain about it, No 10 has confirmed.

Jim Waterson 

The piece alleged that Boris Johnson attempted to hire Carrie Symonds, who he has since married, as his taxpayer-funded chief of staff when he was foreign secretary and she was a Conservative party press chief.

The story claimed the plan fell apart when his closest advisers learned of the idea. Johnson was still married to the barrister Marina Wheeler at the time.

A spokesperson for Carrie Johnson said the allegations were “totally untrue”. A Downing Street source described it as a “grubby, discredited story”.

However, the freelance journalist who wrote it, Simon Walters, has defended the article, which appeared on page five of some early print copies of Saturday’s Times but was dropped for later editions after the intervention from No 10.

On Monday Downing Street confirmed it contacted the newspaper on Friday night and asked it to retract the story.

The Times has so far refused to say why it agreed to remove the story although its website has been flooded with comments from readers demanding an explanation.

Political sources with knowledge of the incident have said the original story is correct.

Dominic Cummings, a former adviser to Johnson who has become an arch critic of the prime minister, backed up the original story and went further, suggesting Johnson also attempted to appoint his wife to a government job in late 2020.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said they were unable to comment on Johnson’s activities before he became prime minister but said “others have made clear this story is untrue”.

The spokesperson denied Cummings’s claim that Johnson tried to get his wife a Downing Street job while prime minister.

The decision to remove the story is understood to have been made by Tony Gallagher, the Times’ deputy editor, who was standing in while the editor, John Witherow, was on leave.

A News UK spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on suggestions the company’s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, was also involved in the discussions.

Guto Harri, the current Downing Street director of communications, was an adviser at News UK, the owner of the Times, between 2012 and 2015.

Contrary to online speculation, there is no superinjunction or specific legal issue preventing reporting of the story.

MailOnline published a rewritten version of the Times story on Saturday, only to also quietly delete it without explanation.

The story that the Times pulled was rereporting an allegation that appeared in a critical biography of Carrie Johnson by the Tory donor and peer Lord Ashcroft. The original accusation remains available online as part of the serialisation of the book – which is still hosted on MailOnline.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 6 June