With the sudden resignation of Conservative MP Chris Skidmore earlier this month (January 5) a by-election approaches in the South West which could signify the start of a significant shift in British politics.
In a shock announcement that he was not only resigning the party whip, but also forfeiting the seat he has held for 14 years, Skidmore said his decision was the result of the PM’s new bill, which would issue increased oil and gas licenses. He said he could “no longer condone nor continue to support a government” who are making environmentally harmful decisions.
As the minister who pledged to reach net zero by 2050, under former PM Theresa May, Skidmore has been critical of his party in the past, believing it was headed in a “very dark direction” around misinformation and climate change.
In his resignation statement, he added that to do nothing was to “tolerate a status quo that cannot be sustained” and with his departure, he was now “free from any party-political allegiance”. Having found himself “increasingly at odds” with his party, the former MP for Kingswood said he had “no regrets” about leaving.
Skidmore became the member for Kingswood after the 2010 election and has been ever since. Although a Labour seat since 1992, the Conservative MP built an 11,000 majority after the 2019 election.
While those residing in South Gloucestershire (including me!) will tell you more often than not that they are from Bristol, South Gloucestershire is its own authority within which Kingswood sits.
The Kingswood constituency comprises Hanham, Warmley, Longwell Green and Emersons Green but it will cease to exist at the next election. Following a boundary review, the areas within Kingswood will be dissolved into four other constituencies in the Bristol area. As a result, the upcoming by-election will be the last time an MP is elected in the constituency, but will still cost South Gloucestershire Council an estimated £250,000.
Skidmore’s resignation has triggered a by-election, which will take place next month on February 15. Considered a bellwether seat, the result in Kingswood will likely indicate how other parts of the country will vote at the next general election, which PM Rishi Sunak has confirmed will happen in the second half of 2024.
Candidates have been announced for the Kingswood by-election: Damien Egan is standing for Labour whilst Sam Bromiley is defending the seat for the Conservatives. The Green Party have selected Lorraine Francis and the Liberal Democrats have chosen Andrew Brown. Despite initial suggestions they would not be standing, Reform UK have since announced their candidate, Rupert Lowe.
This is a particularly important seat for Labour ahead of the next general election, as it will likely determine their prospects in other Tory strongholds across the South West. Labour’s hopeful, Damien Egan, grew up in Kingswood and told the Bristol Post he was eager to “give residents a hardworking representative who’s on their side”. The former mayor of Lewisham has been out canvassing alongside MPs and Labour volunteers, and has urged voters this is “not a practice run” for him.
For the Conservatives who are attempting to defend their seat in Kingswood, they have selected councillor Sam Bromiley as their candidate. Bromiley grew up in Hanham and now lives in Longwell Green so has described himself as a lifelong resident of the constituency. He leads the Conservatives on the South Gloucestershire Council. Bromiley told the Bristol Post he is “honoured to have been selected” and “committed” to serving the local area.
After pledging in their new year press conference earlier this month, that the party would have a candidate for every constituency in the general election, it comes as no surprise that Reform UK have also presented a candidate for the Kingswood by-election. They have selected former football club chairman and Member of European Parliament for the Brexit Party, Rupert Lowe. On X (@RupertLowe10), Lowe said he was “delighted” to announce his candidacy after “overwhelming local demand” for a Reform UK candidate on the ballot.
The Green Party have revealed this week that Lorraine Francis will be their candidate in the by-election next month. Francis is a councillor for Eastville and works in Kingswood as a social worker. She has said she feels “politics must change” and wants to give constituents the chance to “elect somebody different”. The South Gloucestershire Green Party said on X (@SouthGlosGreens), that “Lorraine brings a wealth of experience” and is “passionate about working for [the] local area”.
Andrew Brown, a councillor in Hengrove and Whitchurch Park ward in Bristol, has been selected as the candidate for the Liberal Democrats. He has lived in the South West for 18 years and is currently Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat council group. Discussing his selection, Brown said locals were “fed up of being taken for granted by this out of touch Conservative government” and is glad voters can choose someone who “deeply cares” about the community.
With five candidates hoping to be Kingswood’s next MP, the result of this by-election could be hugely significant to predicting the outcome of the next general election.
Although much of the South West tends to vote Conservative, the centre of Bristol has a fairly strong Labour majority with the likes of Darren Jones MP, Thangam Debbonaire MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, and Karin Smyth MP. Some have predicted Labour will extend this hold and take Kingswood next month.
Regardless of whether the Tories maintain control in Kingswood or if Labour take the seat back, the outcome of this by-election is really important. By the end of the year, the constituency will cease to exist, and Kingswood residents will be voting for new candidates in new constituencies.
One thing is very clear – this is anything but a simple by-election.
Edited by: Kaiyah Ellison
Photo credit: South Gloucestershire Council
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