Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya was yesterday sentenced to three months in prison for lying to avoid a speeding ticket.
The Labour party expelled her last month and has already started campaigning in the key marginal seat.
“But the chances of an immediate by-election – or any by-election at all – are remote,” says the New Statesman. Here are the reasons why:
What did Onasanya do?
The MP, who now sits as an independent, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. She was accused of colluding with her brother to avoid having three points added to her licence for speeding.
The jury was told that she lied “persistently and deliberately” to avoid prosecution.
Why hasn’t she been forced to resign?
MPs are automatically expelled from Parliament only if their custodial sentence exceeds 12 months. A Labour spokesperson yesterday urged Onasanya to “act honourably and resign”, but it appears she has no intention of doing so.
Is there another way to force a by-election?
Yes. Under the Recall Act (2015), voters in her constituency can sign a petition to vacate the seat and trigger a by-election. But the legislation sets up “formidable barriers to any successful recall”, says the New Statesman.
The petition needs the signatures of more than 10% of eligible electors – around 7,000 people – within an allotted six-week period. As the petition can only open once Onasanya’s 28-day appeal period has ended, the earliest date a recall petition would end is 9 April.
If the threshold was met, “Labour, as the defending party, would then have three months to trigger the contest,” says the magazine, which adds that “when possible, the party tends to hold by-elections to coincide with the local elections (scheduled for 2 May)”.
Who is running for selection?
Labour won in Peterborough by just 607 votes in the 2017 general election, beating Conservative Stewart Jackson, who had held the seat since 2005. Labour has vowed to fight any by-election “vigorously” and has begun the process of selecting a candidate and established a campaign centre in the city, says LabourList. Lisa Forbes, who stood for the seat in 2015, is expected to run for selection, a Labour source told the site.
The Tories have selected Brexit supporter and local resident Paul Bristow should there be a by-election in Peterborough where more than 60% of residents voted to leave the EU.
According to the Peterborough Telegraph, the other candidates are local councillor John Whitby (UKIP), Beki Sellick (Liberal Democrats), MEP Patrick O’Flynn (Social Democratic Party) and Joseph Wells (Green Party).