After the decision of the Standards Committee to suspend him from parliament for six months over cash-for-questions allegations, former Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who currently sits as an independent, has just announced his resignation. He told reporters on College Green:
I’m an ex-soldier and I believe that when I’ve got something wrong, you’ve got to fess up and get on with it, no point in shilly-shallying, what’s happened has happened and I’m ashamed of it.
Therefore, I’m going to do what I can to put it right for the constituency of Newark, I’m a Newark man, I haven’t lived in Newark for any political expediency, to put it right for my family, my wife, who’s been under such pressure for the last year, and to make it quite clear that I argue with nothing that the committee has said, or may not have said, because I still don’t know officially what has been said.
But with a great heaviness of heart, and I’m hoping that the people of Newark in Nottinghamshire will be able to tolerate me in the future, I’m hoping that they will, I’m going to resign my seat in God’s county of Nottinghamshire in the town of Newark, and I hope that my successor, who has been well and carefully chosen, will be the Conservative candidate. Thank you very much indeed, ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
We can now look forward to what politicos have been craving for months: a by-election in a Conservative-held seat that Ukip could conceivably win. Nigel Farage has already hinted that he is prepared to stand, provided that the contest does not take place on the same day as the European elections. Since it is too late for the writ to be moved in time for 22 May, this condition will be met (the earliest possible date for the by-election is 5 June).
Mercer currently has a comfortable majority of 16,152 (31.5 per cent) in the seat, which the Tories have held since 2001 (Labour won it in 1997), and Ukip polled just 3.8 per cent, finishing fourth, in 2010. But the dramatic surge in support for the party since then, and the circumstances of Mercer’s resignation, mean an upset cannot be ruled out. In last year’s county council elections, Ukip won 17.1 per cent of the vote in the Newark & Sherwood District. If Farage does go for the seat, harnessing the momentum that would follow a Ukip victory in the European elections, his party could have a genuine chance of winning a Westminster seat for the first time.