Labour calls for tactical voting to oust Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch

Labour calls for tactical voting to oust Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch

A phantom leadership election campaign is already underway to replace Rishi Sunak as Tory leader as his party braces itself for an expected defeat.

But Kemi Badenoch, the longtime frontrunner to replace Mr Sunak among the bookmakers, is in a fight to hold on to her seat as polling suggests she could be ousted through tactical voting.

Issy Waite, the Labour candidate for North West Essex – the reformed Saffron Walden seat in Tory blue wall heartlands – has claimed she is just 2 per cent behind the trade and business secretary with three weeks to go before the election.

Kemi Badenoch, the trade and business secretary, is now a Labour target in the North West Essex seat (PA Wire)
Kemi Badenoch, the trade and business secretary, is now a Labour target in the North West Essex seat (PA Wire)

In a bid for campaign funds and an appeal for Lib Dems and Greens to vote tactically, Ms Waite has posted a projection suggesting Ms Badenoch is on 36 per cent, and that she is snapping at her heels on 34 per cent.

Localised polling is notoriously difficult to assess for accuracy but the claim reflects the fears of a Tory wipeout across the UK, based on a series of national polls. According to the projection, 12 per cent in the constituency are backing Nigel Farage’s Reform, splitting the vote on the centre-right.

Ms Badenoch has denied in the past that she is angling for the leadership but it has been claimed even in the run-up to the election that there was a team campaigning on her behalf. The appearance of anti-trans policies that she has fronted in the campaign was also seen as a sign by some that she was positioning herself for after the election.

The Independent understands that team members have been recruited to support potential leadership bids by defence secretary Grant Shapps, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, and security minister Tom Tugendhat during the campaign.

There are also understood to be teams ready for Penny Mordaunt, who has fronted TV debates but is in a battle to hold her bellwether Portsmouth North seat, as well as former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel.

If Ms Badenoch were to lose her seat, the contest to lead the Tories could be thrown wide open.

Ms Waite believes that if Lib Dem supporters, in particular, with 18 per cent of the vote according to the projection, were to back her tactically, then she would win.

She told The Independent: “There are many polls which vary but the vast majority put Labour significantly ahead of the Lib Dems and not far at all from the Tories.

“I do take these polls with a huge pinch of salt [but] from campaigning across the constituency I know that there is a huge appetite for change, and anger with the absent local MP which is very recognised here.

“There are many promising signs for Labour here, such as the [recent] council by-election where Labour won by a huge majority. A large percentage of residents here will vote tactically to get the Conservatives out, and most are turning to Labour as the tactical vote – this can also be seen in the results of the local primary for a progressive candidate where I am very ahead.

“I know the scale of the challenge here but we’re running a strong, positive campaign that is being received well.”

She added: “After 14 years of Conservative chaos and an absent local MP people in North West Essex are crying out for a change. There is only one poll that matters and that's the poll on Thursday 4 July. If people want change it will only be by voting Labour.”

The Lib Dems have rejected calls for tactical voting in a constituency where some projections have them in second place.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “Every vote for the Liberal Democrats at this election is a vote for a strong local champion who will stand up for your community and health services. It’s clear that in many seats across the country, the best way to beat the Conservatives is to vote for the Liberal Democrats."

Ms Badenoch was contacted for comment.