Why the by-election for Peter Bone's Wellingborough seat could actually present a problem for Labour

A recall petition in Peter Bone's Wellingborough constituency has triggered a by-election. Credit: Press Association

The Conservatives may have had a bad run in recent by-elections, but ITV News political correspondent DAVID WOOD believes Labour will have to fight hard to overturn a chunky majority.

It is not a huge surprise that the recall petition has triggered a by-election in Wellingborough.

Labour has been increasingly confident during the past six weeks that they had the numbers of people signing the petition to force Peter Bone out of parliament.

Labour will hit the ground running on this campaign, although a date for a by-election is unlikely before the new year.

A recall petition is a fairly rare tool to eject an MP from parliament. Officially MPs cannot be sacked, they only lose their seat by quitting or at an election.

A recall petition is a six-week opportunity for voters in a constituency to sign to recall their MP and trigger a by-election. If less than 10% of voters sign it, then the by-election is not triggered. That has only happened once: in the case of DUP MP Sir Ian Paisley Jr in 2018 in his North Antrim constituency.

The petition is triggered by the Speaker of the House of Commons for a limited number of reasons including: an MP suspended from the commons before 10 days or more; an MP being given a prison sentence; or an MP being found guilty of expenses fraud.

In Peter Bone's case he was suspended from the House of Commons for 35 days after parliament's behaviour watchdog found he had exposed himself to an aide and physically struck him, something the former Wellingborough MP has always denied.

There has only been one other use of a recall petition in this parliament and that was earlier this year in the Scottish seat of Ruthergen and Hamilton West. The SNP's MP Margaret Ferrier was suspended from the commons after travelling between her constituency and Westminster during lockdown after testing positive for Covid-19 in 2020.

Peter Bone won the Wellingborough seat for the Conservatives in 2005 after Labour had held it from 1997.

On paper Mr Bone's majority in the 2019 election of 18,540 votes looks tough for opposition parties to overturn at a by-election, however, larger majorities have been overturned in recent by-elections elsewhere in the country.

The Conservatives will look to fight hard for this seat but are already in expectation-management mode and many MPs believe that, in the current political climate, they will lose the seat.

There is nothing stopping Mr Bone running as an independent candidate in the by-election although he is currently suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party, which would stop him being selected as the Conservative candidate for the vote.

Rishi Sunak's team is consistently behind in the polls and has lost a string of by-elections in the past couple of years in traditionally safe seats.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with then-Labour candidate Alistair Strathern during the Mid Beds by-election campaign Credit: Jacob King/PA

With this in mind, I think the pressure is really on Labour and Sir Keir Starmer in the upcoming Wellingborough by-election.

They will throw the kitchen sink at it and anyone living in that constituency should brace themselves for a deluge of leaflets and activists knocking on their door trying to convince them to vote Labour.

The problem for Labour is that they will likely be seen as the bookies' favourite, while mathematically, based on recent elections, it appears a safe Conservative seat - so they will really have to fight hard to win voters over.

We know a general election is coming next year and Wellingborough is not a seat Sir Keir has to win to get the keys for Number 10, however he'll be desperate to look in control and on track to win Downing Street.

He will want to look like a winner all year so the best way for him to start is winning a by-election in Wellingborough.