Political

Six possible Parliamentary by-elections in the offing

My previous list went down well with readers, soliciting also lots of feedback. So here is an updated and expanded list.

Theย Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election brought to an end a cluster of three Parliamentary by-elections, all of which so far has been of wider political impact.

Further Parliamentary by-election success for the Liberal Democrats will be important for the party’s recovery because, for all the value in council by-election successes, it is a run of Parliamentary by-election successes which have been an essential part of the mix in triggering previous Liberal Democrat recoveries.

Whether that happens depends in no small part on where the contests come up. So what are the likely seats? Ill health is often a cause of by-elections. Speculation over ill MPs, however, is not only distasteful but also, thanks to the vagaries of the human body, frequently way off. Other possible causes of by-elections are better grounds for speculating about the political future.

Here, then, are six other Parliamentary by-elections which may happen in the next few months, even leaving aside what the police may do over those Conservative election expenses.

Bath

Ben Howlett, the Conservative MP for Bath, has been questioned by the police about a serious assault allegation. Questioning is not the same as prosecuting and prosecuting is not the same as convicting, so this is by no means a definite by-election. It is, however, a possibility.

The result in Bath at the 2015 general election was:

  • Conservative 38%
  • Lib Dem 30%
  • Labour 13%
  • Green 12%
  • Ukip 6%
  • Others 1%

With Chris Hanretty’s estimates putting the Remain vote in the European referendum at 68%, a by-election here would be immediately classified as Another Richmond Park (Quite Possibly).

Again the main story would be about strength of Lib Dem revival and of enthusiasm amongst Remain voters to send a clear message to the government about Brexit.

Also of note is the quarter of the vote won by Labour and Greens. Will a ‘progressive alliance’, whether due to candidates not standing, or self-organised by voters themselves, occur and give the idea wider currency?

Edinburgh West

Left out of this list first time round, Edinburgh West is now a serious prospect for a Parliamentary by-election as the police have gone from saying their investigations do not involve the MP Michelle Thomson to saying they have reported her to prosecutors. (UPDATE: Charges were subsequently dropped).

Elected as an SNP MP, Thomson is facing allegations around fraudulent property deals. She left the party after they first surfaced. However more recently there has been strong support in the SNP to re-admit her, support that may now fall away again in the face of the latest police news.

If a by-election does happen, it will be a major SNP versus Liberal Democrat battle, as Edinburgh West has long been a Liberal Democrat target or held seat. In the Scottish Parliament elections this year (on slightly different boundaries), Alex Cole-Hamilton gained the seat for the Liberal Democrats from the SNP.

The result in the Parliamentary constituency in 2015 was:

  • SNP 39%
  • Lib Dem 33%
  • Conservative 12%
  • Labour 12%
  • Green 2%
  • Ukip 2%

Glasgow East

Natalie McGarry, elected as the SNP MP for Glasgow East in 2015, has since been suspended by the SNP and charged with financial fraud. If – and as with Bath, that is a real if – that leads to a conviction it will set up a by-election in a seat the SNP had won on a huge swing from Labour:

  • SNP 57%
  • Labour 32%
  • Conservative 6%
  • Ukip 3%
  • Green 1%
  • Lib Dem 1%
  • Scottish Socialist Party 1%

Even with a by-election caused by a conviction, the SNP would start the favourites to win but with a rich mix of stories ready to be written about how the scramble for second and third could reveal the progress other parties are making.

Leigh

Andy Burnham is the Labour MP for Leigh, failed candidate for Labour Leader and now candidate to be Mayor of Greater Manchester. A Parliamentary by-election therefore may following that Mayoral contest which is being held in May 2017.

The result in Leigh at the 2015 general election was:

  • Labour 54%
  • Conservative 23%
  • Ukip 20%
  • Lib Dem 3%
  • Other 1%

In the European referendum, Chris Hanretty’s estimates put the Leave vote at 63%. That makes this seat a likely good test of Ukip and whether it can reverse its declining fortunes. Ukip overtaking the Conservatives would add to the simmering internal conflicts in Theresa May’s party over speed and terms of Brexit.

For the Liberal Democrats a 37% Remain vote leaves plenty of potential on the upside, but can a strongly pro-European message work to lift up the party in areas like Leigh?

In other words, the results of a by-election here would be packed full of pointers forย British politics across the rest of the country.

Liverpool Walton

As with Leigh, a Mayor contest in May could lead to a Parliamentary by-election shortly after. In this case it is Steve Rotheram, who is the Labour candidate for Mayor of Liverpool City Region.

The result in Liverpool Walton in 2015 was:

  • Labour 81%
  • Ukip 9%
  • Conservative 5%
  • Green 3%
  • Liberal Democrat 2%
  • Others 0.2%

Liverpool Walton is a favourite of political quiz questions being the only Parliamentary seat to contain the grounds of two Premier League football clubs.

Despite Ukip’s extremely low vote share in 2015 and the Leave vote only being slightly above average in the referendum at 54% on Chris Hanretty’s estimates, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin rated it in the last Parliament as the 11th most favourable seat to Ukip in the country based on its demographics. That would make a by-election here a real test of new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall’s strategy of moving against Labour.

Northampton South

David Mackintosh, the Conservative MP for Northampton South, has been under increasing political pressure over a loan made to the local football club while he was leader of the council and whether he received illegal donations linked to it. Police and Electoral Commission investigations are underway and there is also increasing unhappiness internally in his party.

The result in Northampton South at the 2015 general election was:

  • Conservative 42%
  • Labour 32%
  • Ukip 18%
  • Lib Dem 4%
  • Green 4%
  • Other 0.4%

A 59% Leave vote at the European referendum on Chris Hanretty’s estimates would make this a very interesting contest.

It’s the sort of government-held seat that a strong opposition would very much look to win, even perhaps be favourites to pick up. But in the reality that is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, perhapsย the real contest will be whether Ukip can overtake Labour, with all that would mean for morale and momentum in both those parties.

For the Conservatives it wouldย be an almost perfect, if unwanted, test case as to whether chaos and confusion across much of the rest of the political spectrum is enough to let them sail serenely on to victory above it all. But it’s also a test Conservatives are rather keen to avoid if possible.

UPDATE: Hmm. With the snap 2017 general election, my by-election prediction score was left at a less than stellar zero out of six. At least my general election predictive talk was rather more accurate…

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