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How infighting over Nadine Dorries’ seat could cost Labour and Lib Dems a chance of victory

Both parties have refused to pull back in the seat - raising the prospect the Tories might hold on even if their share of the vote collapses

The ambition of an anti-Tory “progressive alliance” is at risk from bitter divisions between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in a key upcoming by-election, the parties have been warned.

In Mid Bedfordshire, the former constituency of Nadine Dorries, both main opposition parties are fighting to take the seat off the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems, who have won a string of recent by-elections, were initially the bookies’ favourites, but Labour has been ahead in both published opinion polls on the contest.

Both parties have refused to pull back in the seat – raising the prospect that the Tories might hold on even if their share of the vote collapses compared with the 60 per cent they won in the last general election.

The Lib Dems are adamant that Labour cannot win in the largely rural constituency because they will struggle to exceed about 30 per cent of the vote. They have urged Sir Keir Starmer’s party to focus on the by-election in Tamworth, which takes place on the same day, 19 October.

“Labour have not governed without Tamworth for 100 years,” a Lib Dem source said. “Blair managed to win it back from the Conservatives, but could never win Mid Beds. We are very curious why they are constantly talking up Mid Beds but seem very shy on Tamworth. There is no doubt these being held on the same day is causing Labour a major headache.”

The party has emphasised the local roots of its candidate, Emma Holland-Lindsay – claiming that Labour’s Alistair Strathern, who is a councillor in London, is unable to stand for the area. “We aren’t making personal attacks,” the source said. “People are telling us on the doorstep they want a local Bedfordshire councillor after the Nadine Dorries fallout.”

Peter Kyle, Labour’s shadow Science Secretary, who is running the Mid Bedfordshire campaign, insisted his party could win over village residents. He told i: “We have more data than any other party there, we have granular data on every village and Flitwick as well. The Lib Dems – where are they getting that data from? They don’t have the teams out or the polling research that we have – it’s categorically wrong.”

He said the Lib Dems were trying to “play the person and not the ball”, adding: “There is barely a Labour MP who hasn’t experienced how the Lib Dems do this… If they say they care about the Tories losing so much more than anything else, why are they putting so much money into destroying the character of the Labour candidate?”

Mr Kyle added: “This is going to leave a bad taste in lots of mouths if they carry on with this, it’s not about one constituency but about how Labour views its relationships going forward. There’s lots of goodwill that’s being squandered completely unnecessarily.”

Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and elections expert, said the two opposition parties were “knocking hell out of each other”.

He added: “There will be a lot of soul searching if the Tories hold the seat. But there is this supposition that votes are automatically transferable from one party to the other, and there’s a lot of electoral evidence that that isn’t actually the case. But there will be a very large call for what people describe as the progressive alliance.”

A Lib Dem insider said: “It works for us either way – if we win then we’re dancing, if we lose then it shows how important tactical voting is.”

Patrick English of YouGov told i that the race for Mid Beds will “inevitably create pressure for a progressive alliance”, but that such three-way fights are less likely in general elections when parties look to focus scant resources on winnable targets.

But he said the Lib Dems would be “nowhere near interested” in the seat in a general election as they look to concentrate on Tory-held seats in the so-called Blue Wall.

“It must be super annoying for Labour as they want to show how they are ready for Government but they are fighting a three-way battle which on the face of it should be a two-way one, because of how effective the Lib Dem by-election machine is.

“So it will lead to conversations about a progressive alliance but when it comes to a general election we are not going to see many of these cases where there is a big three-way fight.”

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