Patrick Mercer resignation: how would UKIP fare in a by-election?

Mercer has a majority of 16,152, but UKIP won 17.1 per cent in the county council elections.

For now, while Patrick Mercer is no longer a Conservative member of parliament, he remains an MP. But having resigned the whip over an alleged lobbying scandal (due to be reported by the Telegraph and Panorama), it remains uncertain whether he will be able to hang on until 2015, raising the possibility of a by-election in Newark.

Mercer, who has said he will stand down at the next election, has a majority of 16,152, but given UKIP's recent performance, the party would hope to challenge the Tories for victory in a seat which neither Labour nor the Lib Dems can realistically win. UKIP only polled 3.8 per cent in 2010, but won 17.1 per cent of the vote in the Newark & Sherwood District in this year's county council elections. And, as ever, there is no such thing as a safe seat in a by-election. 

Incidentally, this case is another example of why a recall law is badly needed. As Zac Goldsmith points out, "If it's bad enough for you to resign from your party, how can it be ok to continue representing constituents at all? Where's that Recall?!"

Patrick Mercer, the MP for Newark, who resigned the Conservative whip today. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.