Chris Skidmore: What are Labour’s chances in Kingswood by-election?

Morgan Jones
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Good morning. In the headlines again over weekend, as they so often have been of late, were by-elections. We got, in fact, three pieces of potentially quite big news on the by-elections front.

The first and most significant by-election news of the weekend came on Friday evening, when Conservative MP Chris Skidmore announced he would be resigning the Tory whip and standing down as an MP “as soon as possible”over his objection to the government’s oil and gas licensing position. As soon as possible is generally reckoned to mean this coming week, when parliament sits again after the winter recess.

Skidmore has represented Kingswood, in suburban Bristol, since 2010, when he took the seat from Labour. In 2019 he had a healthy majority of 11,220. However – and here is where things become more complicated – the seat is set to be abolished at the next election, and scattered pretty definitively to the four winds (aka the neighbouring seats).

Labour should fancy their chances of taking the seat (“We’ve got a really good chance at winning this”, one longtime Bristol Labour activist told me), but whoever took it would end up being an MP for not very long at all before the seat was abolished (six months or so if there’s an autumn election; a matter of weeks if Rishi is fooling us all and the big event is, actually, set for May). As such, it might seem an ambiguous prospect for people like Damian Egan and Claire Hazelgrove, the selected Labour candidates in the neighbouring seats of Bristol North East (a new seat), and Filton and Bradley Stoke (a slightly changed seat), respectively.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees – who lost selection to Egan, and whose office is being abolished later this year in favour of a committee system – is another name to watch in the candidate pool, but the mayor often divides opinion locally.

A final thought on the mess of boundaries, people and prospects around Kingswood: the seat borders Jacob Rees Mogg’s North East Somerset constituency, a seat that is famously not as safe as Rees Mogg’s more Tory than Tory persona implies. A high profile loss to Labour next door months before he faces the polls is not the kind of thing likely to delight Rees Mogg. It has been commented on to me, however, that the fact that Labour has yet to select a candidate in that seat does leave an opening for any potential by-election winner to pocket the electoral benefits of name recognition and incumbency as an MP and slide over to take on the former leader of the Commons in the back end of the year.

From Kingswood to Wellingborough…

Our other two bits of by-election news: we now know who Labour’s Genevieve Kitchen will face off against in the upcoming Wellingborough by-election. Local councillor Helen Harrison, who is, far from incidentally, the partner of current MP Peter Bone, was picked by the Tories yesterday as their candidate. Her connection to Bone, the upholding of serious bullying allegations against whom brought about the by-election, is surely something Labour will make much of.

… to Blackpool

And, finally: we don’t know yet, but there is an inkling of a possibility of yet another by-election on the horizon, this time in Blackpool North and Cleveleys. There have been calls for the Prime Minister to suspend the Tory whip from pensions minister Paul Maynard following allegations of reasonably significant misuse of taxpayer funds, and Labour Chair Anneliese Dodds said that if the allegations are correct, “it is hard to see how such behaviour is consistent with the ministerial code”.

In other Labour news…

TUBE STRIKES: It was announced last night that five days of strikes planned by the RMT union won’t go ahead this week following talks with Transport for London. London mayor Sadiq Khan hailed the news, saying it “shows what can be achieved by engaging with trade unions and transport staff rather than working against them.”

LABOUR TOGETHER: The think tank has announced that Labour peers Sally Morgan and Paul Drayson will be joining their board. Josh Simons, Director of Labour Together described Morgan as” instrumental in making Labour an election-winning machine and building a government equipped to deliver for the British people.”

WELSH LABOUR LEADERSHIP: Jeremy Miles, one of the two contenders vying to succeed Mark Drakeford, had his campaign launch in Wrexham this weekend. We covered Miles’ priorities for office last week – you can read that here.

IPPR: The think tank has launched the newest issue of its journal, “Progressive Review”. The subject is “modern supply-side economics”, and it features a lead article by Rachel Reeves. It should be free to access here for two weeks.

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE: Tomorrow, Bridget Phillipson will give a speech on how Labour will tackle increased school absence. More details and analysis in tomorrow’s email (Guardian).

UNIFORMS: Phillipson also told the Mirror yesterday that Labour would tackle extortionate school uniform costs “as a matter of urgency” if it formed the next government (Mirror).

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…: Tory MP Danny Kruger has said the Conservatives risks”obliteration” at the next election and that it’s possible they will leave the country worse off than when they came to power (Guardian).

ANAS SARWAR: The Scottish Labour leader will make his new year’s speech this morning in Rutherglen. Keep an eye on LabourList for more details.

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