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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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year - or almost £300m per week - as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash  higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.