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

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

But Kemi Badenoch, the long-time 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 percent behind the trade and business secretary with three weeks to go before the election.

Kemi Badenoch is now a Labour target (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Kemi Badenoch is now a Labour target (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

In a bid for campaign funds and 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 fronted by her in the campaign was also seen as a sign by some that she was positioning herself after the election.

The Independent has learnt that people have been recruited to teams to support 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 fronted the debates but is in a battle to hold her bellwether Portsmouth North seat, and 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.”

Ms Badenoch and the Liberal Democrats were contacted for comment.