Two crucial byelections in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton will take place on 23 June, with the Conservatives fighting to keep the seats from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Both seats will be fought after the Tory MPs resigned following scandals. The former Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being found guilty of child sexual assault against a 15-year-old boy. In the Devon seat, Neil Parish resigned as MP after admitting watching pornography twice in the House of Commons chamber.
Though there is no formal pact in place, Labour and the Lib Dems will campaign with the tacit understanding that they will each focus attention on separate seats to maximise each party’s chances.
Labour will focus its resources on the West Yorkshire seat, which the Conservatives took for the first time since 1931 at the last election. Keir Starmer’s party is widely expected to take the seat, which has a majority of just over 3,000.
The party has selected Simon Lightwood, an NHS worker and former staffer for the former Labour MP Mary Creagh, after a difficult selection battle in which the local party’s executive resigned in protest at some local candidates being excluded from the final shortlist.
Labour has been defensive about its decision to shortlist only two candidates and said Lightwood had lived in the constituency for 10 years – with one source saying that “a small clique of Corbynites had held local party to ransom”.
The Lib Dems are hoping to make similar inroads in Tiverton, which has a huge Conservative majority of more than 24,000, though the expectation is high for the party to win the seat given two shock byelection wins in seats with big Tory majorities – Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire.
Parish said he may run in the byelection as an independent, stating that he has been pledged financial support. No other party has announced a candidate so far.
The Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, said on Monday that while taking the seat would be a huge task, the Lib Dems’ success in last year’s North Shropshire byelection – another rural seat formerly held by a disgraced Tory – showed it was possible.
Responding to the date for the byelection, Davey said: “People in rural communities like Devon have had enough of being neglected by this Conservative government.
“The Conservatives’ failure to tackle the cost of living crisis has left millions struggling to pay their bills, while people wait hours for an ambulance and weeks for a GP or dentist appointment.
“The Liberal Democrats are the main challengers to the Conservatives in Tiverton and Honiton. On 23 June voters can send Boris Johnson’s government a message they cannot ignore and elect a strong local champion who will stand up for them.”