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Can the Tories win again in Blackpool if by-election is called?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will face another challenging electoral test after MPs approved ex-Tory MP Scott Benton’s 35-day suspension, which could trigger a by-election in his constituency.

The length of the suspension means a recall petition will be triggered in his Blackpool South constituency, which Benton won as a Conservative MP in 2019.

If the petition is approved by constituents, a by-election will be held in the marginal seat which will likely be a prime target for Labour.

Can the Tories win again in Blackpool South?

Blackpool South is considered a marginal constituency and has been held by both Labour and the Conservatives over recent decades.

Labour MP Gordan Marsden held the seat from 1997 – the year of Tony Blair’s landslide election victory – up until it was won by Benton in 2019.

However, before Marsden took the seat, it had been consistently held by Conservative MPs since its creation in 1945.

Benton won the seat in 2019 with a majority of 3,690 – a slim majority which could be overturned by a strong swing to Labour.

The party has also seen success in recent by-elections, having won in Wellingborough, Kingswood, Rutherglen, Tamworth, Selby, Wakefield and Mid Bedfordshire over the past few years.

Since he has lost the party whip, Benton will not be able to stand as the Conservative candidate if a by-election is held, but he can choose to stand as an independent.

Labour has already selected Chris Webb as its candidate for the seat – a former Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire who worked for Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd until his death earlier this year.

Why was Scott Benton suspended from the Commons?

Last year, the Commons Standards Committee recommended that Benton, who now sits as an independent MP, be suspended for causing “significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons”.

Benton referred himself for investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Daniel Greenberg, after he was recorded by The Times in April 2023 saying that he could table questions to ministers on behalf of lobbyists if they paid him £2,000 to £3,000 a month.

Conservative MP Scott Benton
Conservative MP Scott Benton has had the party whip suspended, a spokesperson for Tory Chief Whip said (Photo: PA Media)

He lost the Tory whip following the sting but has defended his actions claiming that he immediately sought clarification on the rules around parliamentary lobbying and did not seek to pursue the offer of a part-time job from the fake company.

In his evidence to the investigation, Mr Benton argued that “no parliamentary rules were broken during my one-hour meeting with a fictitious company” and that he felt he “complied with the letter and the spirit of the rules”.

He appealed against both the findings of the Committee and the suspension, but in a report published earlier this month, an independent panel upheld the Standards Committee’s original decision, saying there had been “no procedural flaw” in the process.

Will there be a by-election in his Blackpool South seat?

Under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, MPs who have been found guilty of certain wrongdoings or suspended from the Commons for an extended period are subject to a recall petition, which gives the constituents the ability to decide whether they’d like to call a by-election

Reasons a petition can be triggered include submitting false or misleading expense claims, being suspended from the House of Commons for more than 10 sitting days or receiving a custodial prison sentence of less than a year (any sentence longer than a year would see an MP automatically ejected from Parliament).

Benton’s 35-day suspension, which was approved by MPs on Tuesday, means a recall petition will be launched in his Blackpool South seat.

The petition will be open for six weeks and the by-election process will be automatically begun if it is signed by 10 per cent of eligible voters in the constituency.

The recall petition process has been launched five times, of which four have led to a by-election.

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