Senior Tory Nadine Dorries has finally left her Mid Bedfordshire seat – 12 weeks on from promising to quit over her failure to land a peerage.
Under intense pressure to leave, the former culture secretary finally handed in her resignation over the weekend – notifying the chancellor Jeremy Hunt as part of the archaic formal process.
Ms Dorries tweeted about her “new job” on Tuesday, as she leaves her job as MP and takes up a temporary role as Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern until a by-election is held.
In a post she copied a message notifying her of the archaic role she acquires: “Dear Nadine, I am writing to confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has this morning appointed you to be Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern. Your appointment continues until determined by a subsequent appointment to this Stewardship. I will inform the Speaker of the House of Commons next.”
But a motion called a “writ” won’t be moved until parliament returns on 4 September, giving between 21 and 27 working days for a by-election to be held in Mid Bedfordshire in October.
Campaigners are urging opposition leaders Keir Starmer and Ed Davey to decide who has the best chance of beating the Tories and form a “non-aggression” pact – amid warnings they could evenly split the vote.
Compass director Neal Lawson told The Independent that “the ghost of last month’s by-election in Uxbridge should loom large over Mid Bedfordshire” – pointing to the Tories hanging on despite Boris Johnson’s unpopularity.
However, both parties are campaigning hard in the constituency. Mr Davey will visit Mid Bedfordshire later on Tuesday, his fourth visit to the seat since Ms Dorries announced her departure and the first since she formally stood down.
Labour is hopeful of overturning Ms Dorries’ 24,000 majority, having come second in 2019, ahead of the Lib Dems by 6,000 votes. But the Lib Dems also believe they can come from third, having done so in recent by-elections.
New job ⬇️
I am writing to confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has this morning appointed you to be Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern.
Your appointment continues until determined by a subsequent appointment to this Stewardship.
— Rt Hon Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) August 29, 2023
Sir Ed will call for increased funding to expand capacity at local GP practices. “The people of Mid Bedfordshire have been taken for granted for too long,” he said. “People across Bedfordshire should be able to get an appointment with their doctor when they need it.”
He added: “The Liberal Democrats are the clear challengers in this by-election, every vote for our local champion Emma Holland-Lindsay will be a vote to send a message to the Conservatives that enough is enough.”
Labour frontbencher Anneliese Dodds said at the weekend that her party was in “pole position” for the seat, adding: “Labour won’t be cooking up any deals.” Labour’s candidate Alistair Strathern was also out campaigning over the bank holiday weekend.
Rishi Sunak said he is “grateful” to Ms Dorries for her service as both an MP and a minister. The PM said he is “delighted” to support the Tories’ Mid Bedfordshire candidate Festus Akinbusoye, the local police and crime commissioner.
No 10 rejected Ms Dorries’ criticism that the PM has presided over a “zombie parliament”. His official spokesman said that Mr Sunak pointed to achievements securing the Windsor Framework deal with the EU and making headway in halving inflation. He said Mr Sunak was “very much focused ... on delivering for the public”.
Mr Sunak’s allies have fired back at “bitter” Ms Dorries at the weekend after she accused the PM of putting her personal safety at risk by whipping up “a public frenzy” against her.
The Johnson loyalist launched a scathing attack on Mr Sunak and his “zombie” government as she finally formally resigned her seat, telling him: “History will not judge you kindly.”
But senior Tory Bob Neill – a loyal Sunak supporter – accused Ms Dorries of presiding over a “theatre of the absurd” with her recent refusal to go unless documents concerning her denied peerage were released.
And Tory peer Gavin Barwell, the former No 10 chief of staff under Theresa May, also said her claim that Mr Sunak “whipped up a storm” against her was “absurd” – insisting that it had come from the constituency.
Ms Dorries refused to say if she would vote for the Conservatives at the next general election. She told TalkTV on Sunday: “You’re asking me a question I don’t want to answer.” The ex-minister also said that the Tories were “very, very unlikely” to win under Mr Sunak.