Labour shouldn't be able to duck a by-election

It should be a legal requirement to hold a by-election within three months

After the sad death of the Labour MP David Taylor, who was one of the few genuine socialists left in the Commons, attention has turned to the possibility of a by-election just a few months before the general election.

Labour is likely to do all it can to avoid holding one, and with good reason. The party's majority in North-West Leicestershire, which Taylor first won in 1997, is only 4,477 votes and would be overturned with a swing of 5 per cent to the Tories.

By convention, by-elections are held three months after the death or resignation an MP but there is no constitutional obligation to hold one within this period. Yet it would be unacceptable to leave Taylor's old constituents unrepresented for up to six months.

The solution is surely to make it a legal requirement for by-elections to be held within three months of a seat becoming vacant. Like fixed-term parliaments, such a reform would end the manipulation of the electoral calendar by the governing party.

I won't get my hopes up, but this is exactly the kind of high-minded reform Labour should pursue in its final months in office.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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