The Mid Bedfordshire by-election shows how First Past the Post warps our politics

Mike Wright, Head of Communications

Posted on the 29th August 2023

It finally happened. After weeks of speculation and, more latterly, mounting criticism, Nadine Dorries officially resigned her seat in Mid Bedfordshire, triggering yet another by-election.

Since the former culture secretary announced her resignation back before the summer recess, the media focus has largely been on the tension between her and the Prime Minister, whom Dorries has been a vocal critic. Yet her resignation has now set the scene for another drama, as her nominally safe seat is shaping up to be a three-way battle to decide the next member for Mid Bedfordshire.

The three-way battle for Mid Bedfordshire

This may seem counterintuitive, as at the last the election, Dorries was returned with what would usually be an unassailable majority of 24,663, on a vote share of just under 60%. Labour was a distant second on just over 14,000 votes, equating to 21.7% of the vote, while the Lib Dems were third with 8,171 votes and a vote share of 12.6%.

2019 results from Mid Bedfordshire

Party Candidate Votes Votes % Votes % Change
Conservative Nadine Dorries 38,692 59.8  1.9
Labour Rhiannon Meades 14,028 21.7  6.8
Liberal Democrat Rachel McGann 8,171 12.6 + 6.6
Green Party Gareth Ellis 2,478 3.8 + 1
Independent Alan Victor 812 1.3 + 1.3
Monster Raving Loony Party Ann Kelly 536 0.8  0.2

Explore the full results from the 2019 General Election on our results dashboard.

On the face of it, it would seem Labour are best placed to challenge the Conservatives for the seat, but it seems that both Labour and the Lib Dems have been emboldened by their recent by-election successes. Last month, Labour managed to overturn a safe Tory majority in Selby and Ainsty with a huge 24% swing, while on the same day, the Lib Dems managed to overhaul another safe Conservative seat in Somerton and Frome with a massive 29% swing.

The upshot has been increased media conjecture on whether one of the progressive parties will stand aside for the other to have a clear run at Mid Bedfordshire, or if, as seems to be the case, both will campaign at full pelt, which could help the Conservatives retain the seat by splitting the left of centre vote.

Voters shouldn’t have to work around Westminster’s system

The result is that the eventual winner of the by-election is hard to call. However, one of the losers is less uncertain; the voting public. The race in Mid Bedfordshire highlights in technicolour the failings of our electoral system. The fact the media debate is almost solely on how various parties game the system shows how the First Past the Post system warps our politics and puts the emphasis on Westminster machinations rather than where it should be: on the voters.

This by-election should be about the people of Mid Bedfordshire choosing the MP they feel best represents them in Parliament and they should have an electoral system that enables to express that preference clearly, without resorting to tactical voting or gamesmanship. Voting should be about Westminster clearly hearing the voice of the electorate, instead, it seems more a competition over who can best manipulate an outdated voting system.

Add your name to our call to scrap Westminster’s First Past the Post system

Add your name

Read more posts...

Where is Single Transferable Vote used in the UK?

Whilst First Past the Post is used for Westminster elections in the UK, it’s not the only way we elect people to office in the UK. Other voting systems have a long history and are...

Posted 29 Mar 2024

MPs and Peers recognise the benefits of STV when they are the voters