The Liberal Democrats have claimed the party has “romped home” in the Somerton and Frome by-election less than two hour after polls closed.
If the Lib Dem claim is verified in the early hours of this morning, it will be the party’s fourth by-election victory in a traditional safe Conservative seat in a little over two years, and is the first of what might be three losses for the Tories this evening.
Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine said the party would not be claiming victory so early if they were not certain their candidate Sarah Dyke had overturned the Conservative’s 19,213 majority.
“We don’t just think we’ve won, we think we’ve romped home” said Ms Jardine. We think the Conservative vote has just collapsed. It’s in free fall.”
Following the victory claim Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: “We’re going to need a bigger tractor.”
The Conservatives also admitted things appeared to be going in favour of the Lib Dems.
David Fothergill, Conservative group leader on Somerset County Council, said: “We will wait for the official result, but it does appear as if the Liberal Democrats have had a good night.”
As the low turnout of 44.23 per cent was announced, Fothergill suggested that the traditional Tory vote had stayed at home.
If the Lib Dem candidate Sarah Dyke is declared for the seat later tonight, it would mark a swing of at least 15 per cent for the party.
It could also mark a terrible night for the Conservatives, who are also predicted to lose to Labour in Uxbridge and Selby this evening.
If the Conservatives do lose all three by-elections, Rishi Sunak would become the first Prime Minister to suffer a hattrick of losses since Harold Wilson did so in 1968.
“It could be that tonight the Conservative Party is about to lose three by-elections in one night,” added Ms Jardine. “That hasn’t happened to a Prime Minister in one night since Harold Wilson in 1968.
“So yes, this is a significant night, and it gives us a good indicator for what could happen at a general election, which couldn’t come sooner as far as we’re concerned.
“This result in Somerton and Frome and the likely results elsewhere tonight show that people want a change and that change will come when the general election takes place.”
There are concerns among some Tories that the night in Somerset could get even worse if they are forced into third place, with the Green Party candidate Martin Dimery also claiming his vote has increased significantly.
“We finished fourth last time and it looks to me as if we’re going to finish higher up this time.
“As we’re looking at the count tables now, second is a possibility.”