Suspension of Blackpool South MP Triggers Recall Petition and Potential By-election

Scott Benton MP has been embroiled in a lobbying scandal. which led to an investigation by the Committee on Standards.
Suspension of Blackpool South MP Triggers Recall Petition and Potential By-election
Undated handout photo of Scott Benton MP. (UK Parliament via PA Media)
Evgenia Filimianova

Parliament has approved the suspension of Blackpool South MP Scott Benton for 35 days, setting the scene for a recall petition and potentially another by-election.

Mr. Benton had the Tory whip withdrawn last year and sits as an independent. An investigation by the Committee on Standards found that he breached the rules of conduct after the details emerged of his meeting with undercover reporters from The Times of London at a hotel in March.

The reporters posed as gambling industry investors and offered the MP remuneration in return for lobbying other lawmakers and tabling parliamentary questions.

Mr. Benton told the reporters that he could “absolutely” call in favours with his colleagues.

The suspension, approved by the parliamentarians on Tuesday, begins on Feb. 28. The length of the suspension—above the 10-day threshold required to trigger a recall petition—means that the constituents of Blackpool South will decide the future of the seat.

At least 10 percent of voters are required to sign the petition to pave the way for a by-election.

Mr. Benton said he didn’t break parliamentary rules and didn’t insinuate that his colleagues would be inclined to do so. However, a report by the committee found that his actions had “tarnished” the reputation of all MPs.
The prospect of another by-election won’t come as good news for the ruling Conservative Party. Having lost two seats in Wellingborough and Kingswood to Labour earlier this month, the Tories have now lost more by-elections than any administration since 1960s.
Constituents in Kingswood elected Labour MP Damien Egan in a by-election vote, triggered by the resignation of Chris Skidmore in January. The Conservative MP resigned from his position over dissatisfaction with the government’s shifting in position on net zero targets.
The Wellingborough by-election was triggered by a recall petition, prompted by the suspension of Peter Bone. He was suspended for six weeks over bullying and sexual misconduct relating to a staff member. Labour’s Gen Kitchen replaced Mr. Benton as an MP for Wellingborough.

Political Impact

A recall procedure for MPs was introduced in 2015 under former Prime Minister David Cameron, in the aftermath of the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009. Since then, it has been used five times, four of which were successful and resulted in a by-election.

MPs can be recalled under three circumstances, including a conviction in the UK of any offence, suspension from the House, or making false or misleading parliamentary allowances claims.

According to the House of Commons rules, the recalled MP may stand as a candidate, which means Mr. Benton could technically chase the Blackpool South seat.

A Blackpool South by-election would be the fourth this year, following a vote in Rochdale this Thursday. This seat was last held by Sir Tony Lloyd, who died in service in January.

Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali has recently lost the support of his party over comments he made about the Hamas attacks on Israel. While Labour can withdraw support from Mr. Ali, he cannot be removed from the ballot.
In a general election year, every by-election loss cuts deep for the Conservative government. It adds to the unpromising voting intention poll results, which indicate greater public support for Labour.

The odds of holding the Blackpool South seat may not be favourable for the Conservatives, who only managed to hold one seat in nine by-elections since the beginning of 2023.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak inherited the House of Commons majority in the last election, when the Conservatives won 365 seats. The number now stands at 348.

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said in a post on social media platform X that Mr. Benton’s case showed politics “at its worst” and revealed the “scale of Rishi Sunak’s sleaze problem.”

She called on Mr. Benton’s immediate resignation to “save his constituents the upheaval of a recall petition.”

Evgenia Filimianova is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in UK politics, parliamentary proceedings and socioeconomic issues.
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