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Elections & Voting Explained

When does a by-election happen?

By-elections for Westminster occur when:-

-        An MP dies

-        An MP wants to leave the Commons. There may be personal reasons, as with Louise Mensch who gave up the Corby seat for family reasons, or in order to take on a position that would need a full time commitment, as with David Miliband who decided to join a US charity, and MPs who left to contest positions as Mayors of large cities and as Police and Crime Commissioners.  Recently some MPs have resigned because of criminal proceedings, as with Chris Huhne who pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice over a speeding offence, and the House of Commons does have the power to expel an MP for a serious misdemeanour.

-        MPs may change parties but there is no requirement to resign and fight a by-election. However, a few have, for example, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless in 2014, as part of a UKIP strategy of raising the party’s profile through by-elections, and Bruce Douglas-Mann who resigned on leaving Labour to join the Social Democrat Party in 1982. In two cases MPs have resigned and fought a by-election on a matter of principle; the Conservative MP David Davis fought a by-election on the erosion of civil liberties and Dick Taverne left Labour because of disagreements with his local party over Europe in 1973.

-        MPs may be given a peerage and go to the House of Lords which disqualifies them from being an MP, as with Betty Boothroyd when  she retired as Speaker of the House of Commons.

By-elections are also held for vacancies on local councils and the single member constituencies in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly but not for those elections using a party list system such as the European Parliament or the top-up members in Scotland and Wales.  In these cases the party that holds the seat fills the place from their list.

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