Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

So when is the North West Leicestershire by-election?

A report has just been published by the Electoral Commission discussing the administration of the Glasgow North East by-election last year. The report is critical in a number of areas and as Caron Lindsay points out today, the fact that it took almost 5 months to hold the by-election (I made it 143 days) left the constituency without parliamentary representation for far too long.

There is a real risk that this sort of situation could be being allowed to happen with North West Leicestershire too which has been without an MP since the sad and unexpected death of Labour MP David Taylor on Boxing Day.

I expect that Labour are hoping that they can get away with not moving the writ for a by-election there because of the sense that the general election could be called at any time. It is true that it could be but it is also possible that it is still more than 3 months away. The latest it could be is June 3rd. If this parliament was to go this long then North West Leicestershire would have been without an MP for 159 days, even longer than Glasgow North East which has just attracted such criticism. Even if as many expect, Gordon decides to call the election for May 6th that would still be 131 days which is again too long to be without representation.

There are precedents for by-elections being called late in a parliament. Amongst them, one I vividly remember was in 1997. The Conservatives called (and lost) a by-election in Wirral South for 27th February just a few weeks from the general election in May.

It's probably true to say that even Gordon doesn't know when he is going to go yet. He might be currently thinking about May 6th but if events conspire against him he could push it all the way.

As I blogged about at the end of December, the Labour Party reacted with outrage at talk of a by-election very soon after Mr Taylor's death. It is now however nearly two months on from then and I still do not detect any sign that this is going to happen.

I suspect the real reason this is being pushed back and back is that they fear they would lose the by-election and do not want that to derail their campaign in the run up to the general election. But as Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael points out in his reaction to the previously mentioned report:

By-elections should be called for the convenience of the public, and not for the political advantage of the party holding the seat.

I couldn't agree more.

The writ should be moved for North West Leicestershire this week.


Malcolm Baines said...

An interesting comparison is with the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election (which David Alton won) on 29 March 1979. The previous Labour MP died on 15 December 1978; the General Election which Margaret Thatcher of course won, was some 5 weeks later, on 3 May 1979.

Unknown said...

I don't think it's as much that the seat was without representation, although that's important. I mean, one extra bit of Labour lobby fodder isn't going to make much difference, it's the fact that there was nobody there to deal with things like benefits, CSA and Home Office. The MSPs aren't allowed to - Anne McLaughlin, SNP MSP for Glasgow, who does sterling work on immigration cases sent her researcher to a Borders Agency briefing and he nearly was thrown out. However, she's made of sterner stuff so she won the day.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

New Labour’s failure to call by-elections on a timely basis does not sit well with its rejection of the notion that MPs should be permitted contemporaneously to undertake other jobs.

No MP with another job that I am aware of (saving perhaps many of those MPs whose other jobs are as government ministers) spends as much as 150 or so days away from parliamentary duties.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I think it's high time we had a regulation that a by-election must be held within three months of a seat being vacated for any reason, unless it is within four months of the last possible date for a GE.

Is there any chance a sympathetic MP could be found to put forward a Private Member's Bill on this? I appreciate it wouldn't get through, but it might embarrass the Tories (who will almost certainly be in power) into doing something.