Somerset councillor to stand for Lib Dems in anticipated Frome by-election - although David Warburton MP has not resigned
By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
13th May 2022 | Local News
A Somerset councillor will be aiming to unseat the Conservatives in the event of a by-election in Somerton and Frome.
David Warburton, who has represented the constituency since 2015, has been suspended from the Conservative Party since early-April following allegations of sexual harassment against three women.
Mr Warburton – who denies the charges – has not indicated his intention to resign as an MP, nor has any by-election been formally triggered through a recall petition.
However, the Lib Dems have announced that Sarah Dyke will be challenging for the seat if any by-election is called, with the party hoping to capitalise on its recent successes in the local elections.
A party spokesman said "Everyone expects there to be a by-election in Somerton and Frome, when voters in the south west will get another chance to voice their frustration at Boris Johnson."
Sarah Dyke was one of two Lib Dems successfully elected to the Blackmoor Vale division on the new unitary Somerset Council on May 5, unseating long-standing Conservative county councillor William Wallace and her fellow district council Hayward Burt.
On South Somerset District Council, she has represented the ward of Milborne Port (near Sherborne) since 2015 and holds the environment portfolio, pushing forward rewilding programmes and investing in electric vehicle charging points.
Ms Dyke, who lives in Cucklington near Wincanton, comes from a farming family who can trace their connection to the local area back more than 250 years.
As a prospective parliamentary candidate, she has pledged to fight for protecting green spaces, standing up for Somerset's farmers and securing better access to GPs.
She said: "I am delighted to have been selected and will fight for a fair deal for communities who have been ignored for too long by Conservative politicians.
"Villages and towns across Somerton and Frome have been taken for granted by the Conservative Party. Our communities suffer from dangerously long waiting times to see a GP or NHS dentist, disgusting sewage being dumped in our rivers and developers threatening to build on our precious green spaces.
"As someone from a farming family, I understand the outrage at botched trade deals and the shambles over essential payments. I will stand up for our farmers who deserve a strong voice for them in Westminster.
"Local people voted for change when the Conservatives were ousted from Somerset County Council and it will be a two-horse race to win Somerton and Frome at the next election."
Somerton and Frome (which also includes the towns of Bruton, Castle Cary, Langport and Wincanton) was considered a key marginal seat between 1992 and Mr Warburton's first win in 2015, with the winning Tory and Lib Dem candidates enjoying low majorities.
The Lib Dems held the seat between 1997 and 2015, with Sir David Heath – who now sits on the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group's governing body – winning in 1997 with a majority of just 130 votes.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said his party's recent performance in the local elections (winning 61 out of 110 seats on the new unitary authority) meant any by-election would be a two-horse race between Ms Dyke and the Tories.
He said: "Sarah is a passionate campaigner who is determined to fight for a fair deal for communities across Somerton and Frome, who have been badly let down by the Conservative Party.
"Sarah's track record of protecting the local environment and standing up for local farmers shows she would make an excellent MP.
"I have heard loud and clear from local people that they are fed up with being taken for granted by Boris Johnson's Conservative government. There is real anger in Somerset at a Conservative Prime Minister who is hiking taxes on hard-working families and let GP waiting times spiral out of control.
"At the next election it will be a two horse race between Boris Johnson's Conservative party and a committed local champion in Sarah Dyke."
Mr Warburton – who is currently in hospital – issued a statement on his official website on May 6 apologising to this constituents who felt "let down or disillusioned" by the allegations made against him.
He said: "As I am sure you can appreciate, this has been a very difficult and trying time for myself and my family, with an inflammatory story run in the press on a national scale.
"I would take this opportunity to express my deep sadness to any constituents who feel let down or disillusioned by the allegations. This is made all the harder by the fact that I have been unable to respond myself through a formal investigation.
"As it happens and since the stories appeared a month ago, I have still not been contacted by any authority and am currently unaware as to whether any investigation has, in fact, been established.
"As a result of the widespread allegations I was admitted to hospital and remain under treatment, and I am sorry that this has caused uncertainty about the representation of our constituency.
"I would like to pass on my reassurance that I have been in continual contact with my parliamentary and constituency offices.
"I have been responding to enquiries, working on casework, writing and speaking to ministers and departments and putting questions to them on behalf of constituents, all as normal. I look forward to be able to return fully to parliament when it reconvenes.
"I would like to pass on my most sincere gratitude to the many, many people from across our constituency for the innumerable cards, letters, emails and messages of support that my family and I have received.
"I am also extremely grateful to the great number of MPs from both sides of the House for their support. The kindness and support I have seen during this most difficult time only serves to remind me what an enormous privilege it is to serve such a beautiful constituency filled with wonderful people."