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By Ben Guerin
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By-Elections Are Due In Wellingborough And Kingswood: Here's What You Need To Know

The recall petition against Peter Bone (pictured) triggered the by-election in Wellingborough (Alamy)

6 min read

The Conservatives are once again being forced to defend seats in unexpected by-elections, with two due in February in Kingswood near Bristol, and Wellingborough in the East Midlands. Both present a headache for the Tories that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could do without.

Chief Whip Simon Hart has issued writs for the seats vacated by Peter Bone, who was recalled following a misconduct ruling, and Chris Skidmore who quit over the government’s energy policy.

The contests have to take place within 21-27 days of the writs being laid. North Northamptonsire Council have announced that the Wellingborough vote will take place on 15 February, and the Kingswood contest will be held on the same day. 

Here is everything we know about the by-elections so far and who is standing in them:  

Why are the by-elections being held?

The by-election in Kingswood has been triggered following the resignation of Conservative MP Chris Skidmore over the government's plans to liberalise rules for new oil and gas licenses. 

The former energy minister announced on Friday evening that he would quit and would not vote for the government's plans to offer new permits for drilling in the North Sea. 

“At a time when we should be committing to more climate action, we simply do not have any more time to waste promoting the future production of fossil fuels,” he said in his resignation statement. 

The by-election was triggered after he officially resigned from the Commons on Monday, when the House had returned from Christmas break. Skidmore had already announced that he would stand down at the general election, but brought his departure forward with the announcement of his immediate resignation. 

The by-election in Welingborough was confirmed in December, when a recall petition was backed by more than 10 per cent of his constituents. 

Bone had the Conservative party whip removed in October after an independent watchdog found that he carried out acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct.

A report by the Independent Expert Panel said Bone "committed many varied acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct" between 2012 and 2013, amounting to a "serious case of misconduct".

Bone has said the allegations were "false and untrue".

What are the leading issues in each seat and who has held them before? 

Kingswood was held by Labour from 1992 to 2010, but has been held by Skidmore since the 2010 election. Although Skidmore won with a slim majority of around 2,500 in 2010, by the 2019 election, that majority had increased to more than 11,000. 

Before then, it had been Conservative since former prime minister Margaret Thatcher – who represented Finchley – was elected in 1979. 

Labour believe that the main issues in the seat near Bristol are those shared by constituencies across the country: the cost of living and challenges to get on to the housing ladder. A party source reported a sense of anger with the government over the general state of the country and a sense that things are not working anymore. 

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was expected in Kingswood on Thursday as the party begins its campaigning in the seat, and according to The Guardian will focus on rising mortgage costs as part of her visit. 

The majority of more than 19,000 in Wellingborough would usually be enough to declare it a safe Conservative seat, however Labour has overturned Tory majorities in by-elections greater than that in the last year. In October, Labour overturned a Conservative majority of over 24,000 to win the Mid Bedfordshire by-election.

Peter Bone had been the seat’s Conservative MP since 2005, when he defeated the Labour candidate who had represented the area since 1997. Before then, it had been Tory for around 30 years. 

Conservative campaigners believe that immigration and bringing down inflation will be among the top issues for voters in the patch. 

Who is standing in the by-elections?

The main parties have all selected their candidates in Wellingborough, and selections are ongoing in Kingswood given the recent surprise announcement of the by-election. 

Helen Harrison, the Conservative candidate in Wellingborough, made headlines when she was chosen in January as she is the partner of ousted MP Bone. She is a councillor for Oundle on North Northamptonshire council, and previously stood to be the MP for Bolsover in 2017. She said she is “best suited to deliver” for the constituency pointing to her record in local government. 

Conservatives hope that her connections to the local area, including in local government will play well on the doorstep. 

Skidmore declined to back Harrison when asked by The Times, telling the paper that he is "now independent and I’ve said clearly that I’m focusing on net zero".

He added: "I’ve left party politics behind, I want to work with all political parties that prioritise the energy transition.” 

Gen Kitchen was selected for the Labour Party in November last year. She stood in the nearby South Northamptonshire constituency in 2019, and came a distant second to Andrea Leadsom. 

Speaking to local paper the Northamptonshire Telegraph after her selection, Kitchen said she was “delighted” to have been chosen and that people in the constituency feel “abandoned and neglected by the Tory government”. 

Ana Savage Gunn has been chosen to represent the Liberal Democrats. According to the local paper, she was born and raised in Northamptonshire, and has previously worked for the local police force. 

Will Morris, has been selected as the Green candidate, while Reform’s co-deputy leader Ben Habib will also stand. 

Of the main parties, only Labour has announced their candidate so far in the Kingswood by-election, less than a week after the surprise resignation of Skidmore. 

Damien Egan, the Labour mayor in the London borough of Lewisham, has been selected to stand in the seat that the party held from 1992 to 2010. 

Egan grew up in the area, and had previously been selected as the Labour candidate for Bristol North East at the general election, a new seat that will be comprised of parts of the Kingswood patch which is set to be abolished at the next general election as a result of boundary changes. 

In a video on social media posted after his selection, Egan said that he is “proud” to have been selected and “excited to have the opportunity to be able to give back to the community that I grew up in”. Labour believe that Egan has had a good reception on the doorstep so far. 

Reform has said that they will not field a candidate in the Kingswood by-election, claiming the vote is a waste of taxpayer’s cash.

Earlier in the week party leader Richard Tice said that the party will stand “everywhere in England, Scotland and Wales”. at the next general election.

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