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.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.